Process by which mycelium leather can self-heal.
Process by which mycelium leather can self-heal.

New bioengineering research has shown the potential of using mycelium, the root-like structure of branching hyphae found in soil and rotting tree trunks that is part of the fungus family, as an as an engineered living material (ELM) that can self-repair. A new mycelium-based ELM was established for the first time, and its potential for fabrication demonstrated using biological processes with the ability to retain the capacity for regeneration.


Mycelium-based materials, and in particular mycelium leather, is already used in many applications, such as building materials and surfboards, and has much potential as a substitute for animal-based and synthetic textiles. Although their manufacturing process usually ends up killing the fungal growth, preserving some of its fungal properties could help in the development of self-repairing fabrics.


There is growing interest in ELMs that are fully composed of fungal cells as they can offer significant potential because of their functional properties, including self-assembly, sensing and self-healing. However, to help progress the development of fungal ELMs that use the organism's ability to regenerate as self-repair, new methods for controlling and optimizing mycelium materials are required, in addition to improved understanding of the biological mechanisms behind regeneration.


As reported in Advanced Functional Materials [Elsacker et al. Adv. Funct. Mater. (2023) DOI: 10.1002/adfm.202301875], in this study mycelium was grown in a liquid vat full of proteins, carbohydrates and other nutrients, before the mycelium skin on the surface was skimmed off to produce a thin leather-like material. With sufficiently mild temperatures and chemicals, the researchers were able to maintain some of the fungi's properties, such as chlamydospores, thick-walled vegetative cells formed at the hyphal tip, on the mycelium that can grow back in the right conditions.


The chlamydospores could be crucial to the material's self-healing properties. The material was self-assembled in bulk by the biology and after treatment retained its capacity to regenerate. It is also a scalable material, which could lead to new research into much larger-scale ELMs. This first mycelium-based ELM study also opens up a new class of ELM. As Martyn Dade-Robertson told Materials Today, “Our research suggests that the material could be more than a simple replacement product but lead to new types of material with longer life spans.”


The research will continue with further examination of some post-production treatments, and in controlling the regeneration process to ensure healing only happens where required, and automatically as a response to damage. The team are also looking to explore different ways to make mycelium materials to produce complex and functionally graded materials.

“Our research suggests that the material could be more than a simple replacement product but lead to new types of material with longer life spans.”Martyn Dade-Robertson