The DTU biobuilders are looking forward to enter iGEM once again! This year, we are working to develop a toolbox so properties of fungi can be manipulated and exploited to build fungal materials.
For millennia humans have known the value of fungi whether it be the yeast we cultivate for bread, beer and wine, or the mushrooms that serve both as a source of nutrition and natural medicinal compounds. However, the fungi we find on the forest floor are only the fruit of a much larger fungal organism, which stays unseen as a complex network of fungal mycelia that stretches far and wide underground.
The use of mycelia in industrial fermentation processes is known to most biotechnologists, but in recent years it has expanded into other fields showing promising potential for being the foundation of a new generation of biomaterials.
Briefly summarised, composite fungal biomaterials are generally rapidly generated, renewable, biodegradable, naturally fire resistant, non-polluting and can be produced from the waste of other industries, be it spent grain from a brewery or discarded furniture from Ikea. For this reason, fungal biomaterials can come to play a significant role in fulfilling the demand for new sustainable materials. Frontrunner companies such as Ecovative and Mycoworks are currently exploring the potential use of fungal mycelia to make insulation materials, foams, fibreboards, bricks and even fungal leather.
Being a living material, fungal mycelium is a self-growing, fibrous material that self-organizes into complex three-dimensional structures. Taking advantage of these properties, fungal-based composite materials can be constructed to achieve structural integrities that potentially are applicable in construction industries both here on earth or in space.
Our project will focus on exploring how synthetic biology can advance the field of fungal biomaterials by targeting genes relevant to the morphology and physical properties of the mycelium. For one, we aim to promote the expression of chitin (what insects shells are made of) in the fungus Pleurotus ostreatus to make its mycelium stronger. Furthermore, due to interest from our collaborators at NASA, we also aim introduce the biosynthetic pathway for melanin such that we can produce UV-resistant biomaterials, which will be important in the context of extraterrestrial construction materials.