Made from fungi, this vegan leather can self-heal holes or rips

September 22, 2023

Jude Coleman,, August 30, 2023

Leather fabrics can be pricey — so a rip in a favorite jacket or purse might be upsetting. But what if torn leather could repair itself? That can’t happen today. But it might one day — if that jacket is fashioned from a specially prepared fungus.

Scientists shared their recipe for this novel leather in the April 11 issue of Advanced Functional Materials.

Most leather comes from animal hides. But researchers in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, have just fashioned theirs from mycelium (My-SEE-lee-um). It’s the interwoven, thready rootlike structures — hyphae (HI-fee) — made by mushrooms. Normally, these strands spread underground, below a mushroom. There, they absorb nutrients from the dead things the fungus digests, such as logs.

Fungal leather is hardly new. Some companies already use fungi to make leather purses and car seats. These help to satisfy a market for goods made without animal products. But those vegan leathers have always been made in a way that stops the fungus from ever growing again.

The Newcastle team thought it could help those mushroom “roots” retain their ability to regrow by tweaking how they made the leather. And it worked.

It takes a gentle approach

Other producers of fungal leather have kept their methods a secret. The Newcastle team is not doing that. In fact, it has offered a how-to guide for copying its innovation, notes Valeria La Saponara. She’s a mechanical and aerospace engineer at the University of California, Davis. Those instructions, she says, could inspire other scientists who want to make mushroom materials.

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