Mycelium has its own sort of intelligence - it responds to external stimuli, such as electricity, or nutrition. Therefore, it is possible to “train” mycelium for practical uses. For example, many textile companies are beginning to make leather alternatives by cultivating dense mats of mycelium on flat trays. Using beet sugar or repurposed industrial byproducts like sawdust, the mycelium is fed and encouraged to grow overlapping fibers, which can then be sliced, dehydrated, and dyed to create a product that is shockingly reminiscent of tanned animal hide. These trays can be stacked vertically, saving space, and the creation of a leather alternative has the potential to return thousands of acres of cattle grazing lands back into forestland. Fewer cattle also means less methane and carbon emissions, which is a major contributor to climate change. A reduction in the leather industry also eliminates the use of heavy metals and pollutants that enter watersheds as run-off from tanning practices. A local Emeryville company, Mycoworks, uses reishi mycelium to create myco-leather so glamorous, they are partnering with high end couture brands like Hermes to bring the vegan leather to high end fashion. We also saw an article article in April of 2021 in Vogue titled: You Aren’t Tripping: Fungi Are Taking Over Fashion.
Phil Ross, the co-founder of Mycoworks, has also developed a way of shaping the growth of mycelium so that it is coaxed into growing into elegant shapes that can be used to create furniture. By adjusting the ratio of nutrients he feeds the mycelium, he can dial in his textures to be as hard as balsa wood, or as soft as cork. It can be formed into simple bricks to use as structural building materials, or into a complex shape like the frame of a chair. The mycelium-based furniture has a rustic mottled look, with colors ranging from eggshell to chestnut, and a slightly woodsy aroma. If Ross’ materials catch on, they could supplement lumber components in construction projects, and provide a faster-growing, more sustainable alternative to wood. Plus, Ross says, in a pinch, you could eat your house!