Fungi are not only tasty but also have other practical applications. One of the most fascinating is a recent discovery that their vegetative mycelium can be used as a replacement for styrofoam. The New York based company, Ecovative, has already began to manufacture and distribute their mycelium based packaging material.
Ecovative uses agricultural waste such as corn stalks and the hulls from grains and nuts as the substrate for fungal growth. They inoculate the waste material with fungal spores and over a few days the fungi degrade the waste through an enzymatic process and mycelium grows throughout the substrate. Ecovative uses different molds and the mycelium grows to fill any shape. The final product is a light-weight and extremely strong packaging block. The strength of the material is due to the high amounts of chitin in the mycelium. Chitin is the primary component of fungal cell walls, and its properties as a polymer make it desirable for industrial use. Ecovative has realized chitin’s qualities as an effective insulating and packaging material and other companies have developed chitin-based surgical threads.
It is fascinating that industry is turning to nature to find improved materials. Fungal mycelium is now used as a replacement for styrofoam and Ecovative already has plans to develop fungal based electrical resistors. Fungi are amazing, and their myriad applications are emerging.