The Future of Fashion: Self-Repairing Clothes Made of Fungus?

Researchers have developed a new wearable material made from the root-like threads of fungi, which has the potential to be used as a self-repairing alternative to leather.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
Fungi under view

Fashion is ever evolving. However, we all remember how we felt when our favorite clothes ripped or tore. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to never have to replace or repair your clothes?

Thanks to a recent breakthrough by researchers from Newcastle University and Northumbria University in the UK, that dream may not be so far-fetched. 

The team has found that the root-like threads produced by many fungi have the potential to be used as a biodegradable, wearable material that's also able to repair itself.

In their tests, the researchers focused on the Ganoderma lucidum fungus. They produced a skin from branching filaments known as hyphae, which together weave into a structure called a mycelium. 

Mycelium-based materials are already being used in a variety of fields, from construction to textiles. However, the process used to produce these materials tends to kill off the fungal spores that help the organism regenerate itself.

The researchers used a new approach involving a mix of mycelia, chlamydospores, carbohydrates, proteins, and other nutrients in a liquid to encourage the growth of a skin that could be removed and dried.  

Is it good enough for mass production? 

The results are currently too thin and delicate to be turned into a garment, but they are confident that future innovations could turn it into a tougher skin, possibly by combining layers or plasticizing in glycerol. 

The Future of Fashion: Self-Repairing Clothes Made of Fungus?
Threads under microscope

Also, the production process didn't kill off the chlamydospores. They could be revived to grow fresh hyphae over breaches in the skin. Tests on the material showed that it was indeed able to replace holes made in it, if it was placed under similar conditions it was grown in. The material was as strong as before, though it was still possible to see where the holes had been.

There's still a long way to go before you'll be wearing clothes made out of fungus. The growing and healing processes currently take several days to happen, but the researchers are hopeful that this can be improved over time.

"Engineered living materials composed entirely of fungal cells offer significant potential due to their functional properties such as self-assembly, sensing, and self-healing," write the researchers in their published paper. The ability of this regenerative mycelium material to heal micro and macro defects opens up interesting future prospects for unique product applications in leather-goods replacements such as furniture, automotive seats, and fashionwear.

This breakthrough has the potential to change the way we think about clothing and the materials we use to create it. With the rise of sustainable fashion, the use of this biodegradable and self-repairing material could be the future of the industry.

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