Week 2: Mycelium, Art Installation

Mycelium

This week, I was particularly fascinated when learning about mycelium. The intricate branching pattern in which it grows reminds me of the branching of our body’s circulatory, nervous, and pulmonary systems. And just as our nerves, arteries, veins, and bronchi act as a highway for transmitting oxygen, nutrients, electrical signals, and other crucial information between organs, the mycelium transports nutrients between trees and other plant life. This similarity in structure between mycelium and anatomical structures in the body makes me think that branching is one of those structures that are conserved in nature, just like the hexagons seen in graphite/graphene, turtle shells, insect eyes, and snowflakes. After last week’s lecture, I watched a video about the physical/chemical stability of hexagons and why they are found so frequently in nature (linked below). Similarly, branching morphogenesis is one of the fundamental processes of human development wherein our organs start out with very simple shapes that branch outwards becoming increasingly complex as the embryo matures. It’s incredibly interesting how fungi, plants, and even the complex species of humans all develop in a similar fashion of increasing complexity that has been conserved during millions of years of evolution.

Link to video about hexagons in nature: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pypd_yKGYpA&t=251s 

This lecture also challenged my preconceptions of fungi. I previously had kind of a negative connotation towards fungi, associating it with mold and rotting. As a child, every summer, my family would bring baskets to the forest and collect wild mushrooms to make pies, breads, and other goodies with, a very positive memory. However, my parents would always remind me the importance of carefully selecting mushrooms and avoiding the many dangerous, poisonous kinds. Walking with my dog in my neighborhood, I would also always see poisonous red mushrooms with white dots and steered my dog well clear of their scent in case he’d take a bite. Now, as an adult, my only interactions with wild mushrooms have been when I left my apartment for winter break and came back disgusted to discover mushroom caps growing out of our base boards after a rain storm. So, a lot of my association with fungi/mushrooms are rooted in poison, contamination, fungal infection, and other instances where I imagined fungi to play a harmful role in their environment. I hadn’t considered that fungi can partake in mutualistic symbiotic relationships and provide nourishment to their environment.

Similarly, I had never imagined fungi as a platform for fashion design and, as an avid sewer and supporter of sustainable fashion, I was extremely interested in the notion of using mycelium-based leathers to eliminate waste in the fast fashion and agriculture industries. Before transferring to UCLA, I actually ran a small sewing/tailoring business where I upcycled friends’ thrifted clothes or commissioned clothing using materials from recycled fabric depots and was especially interested in incorporating plants in the sewing process, such as by making plant-based dyes. I was actually not previously aware of fungi leather but after locating a manufacturer of mycelium-based “mylo” leather, I was shocked to discover that mylo leather is already widely used in mainstream brands like adidas shoes, mercedes benz cars, and stella mccartney handbags. I did find it interesting that most of the brands selling mylo leather products, however, specialize in luxury products so that mylo leather is made significantly expensive and difficult to incorporate into the lives of everyday consumers, particularly individuals of lower socioeconomic status. For instance, the stella mccartney mylo leather handbag costs $2,650. Hopefully, in the future, sustainable fabrics/materials are more equitably distributed among brands that service different communities. 

 

It was also interesting to read that the mycelium cells used to generate the leather are grown in vertical columns with adhesive substrate. This reminds me of the work I do in my laboratory, culturing human embryonic stem cells on adhesive substrates to generate germ cells. In the process of creating mylo leather, after adhesive culturing the resulting foam like substance is extracted for leather making and the original substrate is composted. This makes me wonder whether there are more sustainable methods of traditional laboratory tissue culture that would allow for the recycling of adhesive substrates and medias. 

Link to distributor of mycelium-based “mylo” leather: https://mylo-unleather.com/ 

Some mylo-leather products that I came across on the internet: 
 
 mylo-leather handbag: 
 mylo-leather car interior: 
mylo-leather shoes: 
 
Art Installation 
I was also fascinated by the art installation that we got to see in CNSI. I was particularly interested in the projected dress that depicted women’s body hair, acne, and other microscopic skin textures projected onto a floor-length white gown. I was really empowered by the artist’s message that some of the features of skin that are generally considered as flaws/imperfections can be seen as beautiful. Using a plain white gown was a cool choice since it allowed the print of the skin texture to shine rather than the construction of the dress. I also enjoyed how the artists made the dress viewing an experience that appealed to multiple senses by incorporating the sounds of skin scratching/itching. This was another instance where a seemingly undesirable feature, such as the jarring sound of skin scratching, was transformed into a beautiful experience, via sound editing, to demonstrate the natural beauty of our bodies. Along the same theme, I also enjoyed the artists’ use of flowers and lace to depict body hair in their second, body-suit piece. And to tie back to my previous point about the naturally conserved pattern of branching, the use of red dyed woven fabric to emulate capillaries in the leg was another interesting depiction of branching and hexagons that served as an excellent artistic depiction of a bodily feature thats normally deemed unattractive. Overall, I really enjoyed the artists’ message and how they communicated it through fashion design. 
 
The white gown: 
The capillary leggings: 
The body hair body suit: