Fashionable fungus - creating clothing from mushrooms

Image: John Cameron on Unsplash

In a bid to slash water usage in clothing production, researchers have turned to bread-eating fungus spores.

The fashion industry is a huge consumer of water globally. It's estimated the industry currently uses around 93 billion cubic metres of water per year and this amount is set to double by 2030.

To tackle this issue researchers from the University of Borås in Sweden have turned to fungus.

The team has trialled the use of a bread-eating fungus to convert food waste into materials which look and feel just like leather, cotton, and paper. Besides tackling food waste, the fungal materials use far less water and energy than their conventional counterparts, and are faster to make.

“We hope they can replace cotton or synthetic fibres and animal leather, which can have negative environmental and ethical aspects.”

Akram Zamani, University of Borås

Biotechnologist Akram Zamani and her colleagues are experimenting with the use of a filamentous fungus called Rhizopus delemar that grows on decaying food matter.

The team collected old bread from supermarkets and dried and crushed it into breadcrumbs, which were mixed along with the fungus spores and water in a small reactor. As the fungus consumed the bread, it produced microscopic natural fibres made of the proteins chitin and chitosan.

These fibres accumulated in the fungal cell walls and after two days, the researchers collected the cells, and removed fats and proteins, which they say could be used to make animal feed.

What was left behind was a jelly-like residue containing the fibrous cell walls - which the team spun into yarn that can be woven into clothing. Equally, the residue can also be made into a leather-like materials that closely mimics real animal leather, by using thicker layers treated with tree-derived tannins for softness.

The research was presented at the American Chemical Society’s spring meeting.

Source: Ghasem Mohammadkhani et al. Sustainable fungal textiles and paper-like materials from food waste. ACS Spring 2022.