High melanin yield from the honey fungus

Melanin is more valuable than gold. Researchers at Empa recently succeeded in extracting large quantities of the pigment from the honey fungus. One of the intended applications of this versatile substance is to restore antique wind instruments.

Mushroom culture of the Hallimasch. Dark areas contain particularly high amounts of melanin.

The pigment melanin is a genuine miracle substance: It not only protects the skin from harmful UV rays, it can also be used as a wood preservative, to lend native spruce wood the color of dark ebony, or to filter lead out of polluted water.

So far, however, it was not possible to produce this marvelous substance on an industrial scale. Now, researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) have found a helper in nature: The honey fungus in Oregon, USA, which has grown to become the largest living organism on earth. Its network extends over nine square kilometers. However, the honey fungus can not only grow to an immeasurable size – it also produces melanin.

High melanin yield

“We selected a promising strain of the honey fungus, which, with the help of our technology, now produces approximately 1000 times as much melanin as any other microorganism used in previous attempts to produce the pigment,” Empa announced. After three months, one liter of honey fungus culture had already produced some 20 grams of melanin.

Revitalizing historical instruments

The melanin yield promised by this process will make it possible to drive forward various other projects. For example, historical woodwind instruments could be replicated and saved from decay using a melanin-based wood treatment.

In the original instruments, moisture from the exhaled air creates excellent living conditions for fungi and vermin, which gradually destroy them.

Written by: sda

Photos: Empa

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