Mushrooms: Building Blocks of the Future?

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By Heather Corcoran
Mushrooms aren't just for eating anymore.

From architectural structures to innovations in product design, creative minds are rethinking the humble fungus. One such pioneer is Philip Ross, founder of MycoWorks, a firm that investigates the possibilities of mycelium engineering. The way it works is simple: A fungus species consumes a substrate over time, creating fibers that reflect the properties of the original food source. "Something like ground-up walnut shells can make a very dense, hard layer," Ross explains. At the other end of the spectrum would be "roughly ground corncobs, which are very porous and spongy." What makes mycelium so exciting is that these different densities can be grown together seamlessly, making the naturally fire-retardant material a potential replacement for plastics or plywood, concrete, and other composites. So far, Ross’s firm is exploring mycelium in interior applications like furniture and flooring, but more structural uses are on the horizon, thanks in part to his bioengineering work at Stanford. "Something like ninety percent of fungi don’t yet even have a name," Ross says. "It’s just this unmapped area."   

Mushrooms: Building Blocks of the Future? - Photo 1 of 2 - Recent innovations in mycelium engineering include Terreform ONE’s waste-free, pollution-free mushroom chair. 

Recent innovations in mycelium engineering include Terreform ONE’s waste-free, pollution-free mushroom chair. 

Mushrooms: Building Blocks of the Future? - Photo 2 of 2 - MycoWorks’s  fungus bricks.  

MycoWorks’s fungus bricks.