Place the mix into clear plastic molds shaped

Source: Release Date: 2012-03-16 09:21:53 Hits: 1456

If the aspiration sounds grandiose, consider that six years ago Bayer and McIntyre were Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students growing fungus under their beds for a class project. Today, the young entrepreneurs are more than doubling their production space and recently announced a deal with Sealed Air Corp., the packaging giant known for Bubble Wrap.

Not bad for a product that grows itself.

Workers at Ecovative inoculate mycelium into pasteurized bits of seed husks or plant stalks, then place the mix into clear plastic molds shaped like the desired packaging pieces, such as a cradle-shaped mold for a wine bottle. The mix is covered for about five days as millions of mycelium strands grow around and through the feedstock, acting as a kind of glue. The piece is heat dried to kill the fungus, insuring that mushrooms can’t sprout from it. Since the mycelium is cloned, the product does not include spores, which can trigger allergies. The packaging is edible, technically, though it does not appear appetizing and is not recommended as a snack.

“It’s low-tech biotech,” Bayer said.

Bayer noticed mycelium’s “stretchy” properties as a kid growing up on a Vermont farm. As students, he and McIntyre started with mushroom-based insulation, but the pair switched to packaging material because it seemed a better business bet. They experimented with common varieties such as the oyster mushrooms before hitting on just the right (secret) mix.

The company moved several years ago to a 10,000-square-foot facility in Green Island that still has the feel of a startup: An old industrial asparagus blancher pasteurizes the feedstock, and the mycelium is applied with a machine that once put chocolate chips on cookies. McIntyre’s pet chinchilla, Audrey, rolls around the offices in a plastic pet ball.