How molecular biology can revolutionize the textile industry

Guest post by Dr. Leopoldo Naranjo, CSO at Spora Biotech

As part of the charge to save our planet Earth and the living species that inhabit it, it is crucial to reinvent the high-mass consumption products that savagely pollute our planet-home. As mindful citizens of the world, we must respond to the enormous mistakes of the last 120 years, including indiscriminate extraction of renewable and non-renewable natural resources, massive industrialization, and inclement pollution, which has generated local and global problems such as climate change.

An outstanding contribution would be to provide an environmentally friendly biomaterial that does not have a destructive local or global impact on our planet Earth.

One of the essential focal points of research and development is producing environmentally friendly, high-mass consumption products with low or null impacts instead of toxic and contaminant products. The textile industry is one of the most massive and polluting millenary industries. An outstanding contribution, therefore, would be to provide an environmentally friendly biomaterial that does not have a destructive local or global impact on our planet Earth. SPORATEX recently emerged as one such biomaterial: a sustainable material, similar in texture to animal leather, based on fungal mycelium. SPORATEX was developed through the rational use of biodiversity and the application of cutting-edge nanobiotechnologies.

Can we make sustainable clothing out of these mushrooms? Spora Biotech wants to find out.

Spora Biotech is a Chilean company focused on developing self-generated biomaterials based on fungal mycelium to replace animals and petrochemical leather. Integrating sustainable principles throughout its whole value chain, Spora’s bioprocesses are supported by the concept of Material Biotechnology, which is defined in our last publication as: “The rational use of fungal biodiversity to give added value to natural materials, compounds, or organic waste and convert them into biodegradable products useful for society, art, and culture, in replacement of others that could be harmful to the environment or harmful to life, in themselves, or their production process.”

For this reason, we at Spora explore unique hot spots of biological diversity in search of fungal strains with new characteristics that guarantee distinctive attributes in SPORATEX’s mycotextiles. The Amazon rainforest and Patagonia have appeared as strategic areas due to their enormous fungal biodiversity. However, our vibrant R&D team will explore other remote and ancestral ecosystems on the planet that are still waiting to be discovered by us.

The Spora team embarks on a fungi-gathering expedition

miniPCR’s complete biotech toolkit accompanies us on our expeditions to find the perfect fungi with mycotextile potential. In our expeditions, we establish minimalist, versatile field laboratories stocked with compact, portable equipment that allows us to extract genomic or metagenomic DNA, perform PCR amplifications, conduct gel electrophoresis, and consequently identify the fungal samples we isolated in the jungle — all of them! — on the same day of sampling.

Beyond the isolation of promising fungal strains from “hot-spots” with high biological diversity, Spora Biotech introduces nanotechnology approaches, synthetic biology, and CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to obtain fungal strains with characteristics that could give added value to the final product. These characteristics might affect growth, color, texture, smell, mechanical resistance, elongation, abrasion resistance, and disruptive functionalities, among other attributes, and help guarantee reproducibility, scalability and the sustainable development of mycotextiles throughout their value chain.

Spora’s pop-up lab, stocked with fieldable miniPCR equipment

Our last expedition was in the autumn of 2022 in Chilean Patagonia. A fantastic community of mushroom-loving people, entrepreneurs, brands, producers, and television hosts joined us. We traveled by plane, highway, and boat to get to a paradise of high diversity of fungi, where we spread in the cool air to understand again as the Funga silently colonizes the immensity of the jungle covering it with its microscope and tridimensional mantle. Seventy specimens between fruit bodies and mycelium were sampled and isolated in axenic culture in seven days. Today, two months later, we have the first SPORATEX mycotextiles with the denomination of origin Patagonia.

This brief history is only a tiny example of how Spora Biotech, a sensitive community of people who believe that a better world is possible and miniPCR, can contribute to helping our planet-home by transforming the production of high-mass consumption products into environmental-friendly and sustainable products, in this case, in the textile industry.

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