covative thinks it can use mycelia, the hair-like network of cells that grows in mushrooms, to help build everything from lab-grown meat to 3D-printed organs to biofabricated leather.

Can mushrooms be the platform we build the future on?

When the first bioreactor-grown “clean meat” shows up in restaurants–perhaps by the end of this year–it’s likely to come in the form of ground meat rather than a fully formed chicken wings or sirloin steak. While it’s possible to grow animal cells in a factory, it’s harder to grow full animal parts. One solution may come from fungi: Mycelia, the hair-like network of cells that grows in mushrooms, can create a scaffold to grow a realistic cut of meat.

“With our platform, we’re able to make these complex structures that have texture that you would cut with a knife and be like, wow, that actually has fibers in it, like meat structure,” says Eben Bayer, founder of Ecovative, a company that recently released a new mycelium-based “biofabrication platform.”

For the company, growing meat without livestock is just one of many applications of the platform. “It’s using nature as a molecular assembler,” Bayer says. Ecovative first launched a decade ago by making packaging, now used by Dell and Ikea, that injects farm waste products with mushroom spawn inside a mold. Days later, the mycelium completes the growth of the product, which can be used as a compostable alternative to Styrofoam. The same process can also be used to grow building materials.

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