Scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have fitted 5,000 tiny sensors, measuring just 2.5mm squared to the backs of honey bees in Hobart, Tasmania, before releasing them into the wild.
According to the Tree of Life web project, the organisms of the fungal lineage include mushrooms, rusts, smuts, puffballs, truffles, morels, molds, and yeasts, as well as many less well-known organisms. More than 70,000 species of fungi have been described; however, some estimates of total numbers suggest that 1.5 million species may exist. As the sister group of animals and part of the eukaryotic crown group that radiated about a billion years ago, the fungi constitute an independent group equal in rank to that of plants and animals. They share with animals the ability to export hydrolytic enzymes that break down biopolymers, which can be absorbed for nutrition. Rather than requiring a stomach to accomplish digestion, fungi live in their own food supply and simply grow into new food as the local environment becomes nutrient depleted.
However, one may wonder how is it possible to replace plastics with fungi. The answer to this critical question is: The mycelium. Mycelium (plural mycelia) is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae and is the most significant part of the organism. The main body of most fungi is made up of fine, branching, usually colourless threads called hyphae. Each fungus will have vast numbers of these hyphae, all intertwining to make up a tangled web called the mycelium. The mycelium is generally too fine to be seen by the naked eye, except where the hyphae are very closely packed together.
Fungus Mycelium on a leaf
Source: Kris H. Light
Fungal mycelium is mostly hidden from human view, not only because of its small size, but also as a result of its location. Like icebergs, they represent a tiny fraction of the whole fungus, with most of it being hidden from view. The tangled mycelial mass is usually hidden deep within its food sources, such as rotting matter in the soil, leaf litter, rotting wood, or dead animals. The mycelium remains undetected until it develops one or more fruiting bodies, containing the reproductive spores and plays a vital role to the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of our planet.
Bayer and McIntyre, the 26-year-old co-founders of an innovative company named Ecovative Design, have used mushroom spores as the base for all kinds of their products development. The goal is simple: To create an environmentally friendly, durable and economically viable alternative to the plastics industry and particularly to polystyrene, the versatile synthetic polymer best known for Styrofoam cups and packing peanuts. It should be noted that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies polystyrene as a possible human carcinogen, an evidence that indicates this component replacement as a vital need to improve our health and safety standards.
A Wine case made from agricultural crop waste bonded together with mushroom "roots"
“Polystyrene’s days are numbered and if they’re not, they should be ”, Bayer and McIntyre say. Because of these microorganisms, their products are literally working themselves, with no need for special inspection and complicated procedures, with little to no human contact. Hence, the growing process as a whole, with the implementation of radical practises that are ecologically sound and socially responsible, corresponds to a sustainable and economically viable product development.
In a week to 10 days, the company can grow miles of superthin, supergrippy mushroom fiber that can be molded into nearly any shape. It starts with a mash of corn stalks and vegetable husks impregnated with mushroom spores. The fungus eats the plant nutrients, then grows a complex root network that fills the shapes of the molds, molds that might make a shoe sole, a wine case or carton. The final product is a foam that looks something like a big wafer of nougat candy. It is placed in an oven to stop the spores from growing and to give the material the proper texture, hardness, and elasticity.
Candles made from mycelia and plant matter
Source: Phys Org
Ecovative Design products are all-natural, have no allergy concerns and are completely non-toxic. A fungal mycelium based product not only does it provide fire retardant and heat capabilities, but also demonstrates extreme water repellency. Furthermore, since they are not based on petrochemical components, they provide significantly better UV protection compared to polystyrene foam products without harmful volatile organic compounds emissions into the atmosphere.
The main idea is appealingly innovative, the results are encouraging, promising but not maturing. The technology can give us new methods to deal with critical environmental, economic and social issues. Together with such radical and motivated mechanisms, we are generating developmental trajectories for our societies. Innovation and creativity are today's most essential real-world skills and what young people really need. The next step of the evolution is on the near horizon.