Opportunities in myco-materials by submerged fermentation
Fungal biomaterials are based on the metabolism of filamentous fungi, which have evolved to decompose recalcitrant biomass, preventing soil, forests, and waterways from being overrun with plant litter and animal tissue. In the laboratory, myco-composites are usually produced by solid fermentation, a process based on the fungal colonization of solid lignocellulosic substrates that are processed to a uniform size prior to inoculation. The fungi simultaneously digest and bind the lignocellulose elements, forming a cohesive myco-composite that can be grown to shape, filling the space of its container. The end composition and properties of myco-composites fundamentally depend on the balance between decomposition and growth that is achieved before the material is harvested and growth is terminated. Although less common, submerged fermentation can also be used to produce pure and composite fungal biomaterials. Nature vs. nurture is at play in fungal development, with interactions between genetics and the environment shaping material outcomes. In this talk, I will use a specific example of nanocellulose-mycelium myco-composites to highlight specific opportunities in the submerged fermentation of myco-materials and in the bioengineering of material properties through modifications to the growth environment.
Bio: Tiffany Abitbol has a PhD in Chemistry from Prof. Derek Gray’s group at McGill University, working on cellulosic nanocomposite films, fibers, hydrogels, and colloids. After two postdocs, one at McMaster University and a second at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tiffany moved to RISE Research Institutes of Sweden in 2017. As a senior researcher at RISE, Tiffany participated in and led cross-disciplinary commercially sponsored projects, including in packaging, wound care, food, and personal care. At the same time, she continued to engage in fundamental research centered mainly around nanocellulose and fungal mycelium. Not that long ago, in June 2022, Tiffany started a professor position at EPFL in the Institute of Materials through a Chair in Sustainable Packaging, co-funded by BASF, Logitech, Nestlé, and SIG. Her group (Sustainable Materials Laboratory) continues to focus on cellulose and other bio-based materials, with an overarching aim of connecting composition and colloidal properties to the performance of engineered materials derived from renewable resources.