This parasitic fungus can inspire strong but ultralight materials

In context: Uniquely shaped like a horse’s hoof, F. fomentarius is a type of fungal parasite that grows on the sides of trees it infects through broken bark. When the tree dies, the fungus continues to develop, changing from a parasite to a decomposer.

In the award-winning video game and TV series The Last of Us, a parasitic fungus turns into an apocalyptic brain infection that wipes civilization from the planet. Besides inspiring fictional works, fungi can also play a major role in providing a biodegradable alternative to plastic-based electronics or, in the case of Fomes fomentarius, they can inspire next-generation materials for body armor , aircrafts and others.

By studying F. fomentarius, a group of Finnish researchers found that its complex structure could provide a novel architectural design for “high-performance ultralightweight materials.” High strength, hardness, and fracture toughness are mechanical properties not usually associated with the fleshy body of a fungus, the researchers explained, but F. fomentarius is a rare exception to this rule.

The team studied and detailed the structural, chemical, and mechanical aspects of the fungus, discovering three distinct layers made mostly of mycelium, which is a network of fungal threads that often support the growth of fungi through to live underground. In the three layers of F. fomentarius, however, the material shows distinct microstructures with “uniquely preferred orientation, aspect ratio, density, and branch length.”

The multi-layered structure of F. fomentarius includes a hard, outer crust, a foam-like middle layer called the “context,” and a final section of hollow tubes called the hymenophore. tubes (H. tubes). Due to its complex internal structure, F. fomentarius can be light but strong enough to resist falling from its place on the side of a tree. Researchers say that only H. pipes are comparable in strength to wood, but they are lighter than wood.

The unique properties of F. fomentarius internal structure may offer a great source of inspiration for producing “multifunctional materials,” with unique properties for a variety of medical and industrial applications. that field. The same multi-layer structure can be useful for designing hard solutions such as body armor, exoskeletons for aircraft, surface coatings for windshields and more.

According to Pezhman Mohammadi, a scientist at the VTT Technical Research Center in Finland and a senior author of the study, nature provides a “huge variety of solutions to various material engineering problems.” Many of these solutions are still waiting to be discovered and detailed, the researcher said.

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