Cheese just got even more awesome. Inspired by the way rinds work, bioengineers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology cooked up a living, functional plastic wrap-like material made with cheese fungus that actually cleans itself.
Cheese rinds have the special ability to protect a tasty interior while simultaneously helping it ripen. Swiss researchers leveraged this knowledge to create a unique "living material." They took a thin plastic sheet and spread it with a fungus mixture made from Penicillium roqueforti, best known for making blue cheese blue.
A porous plastic membrane was then pressed over the top to complete the thin sandwich, according to a German description of it from the Institute. The pores were tiny enough to keep the fungus in the middle layer but wide enough to let in liquids.
When the researchers dropped a sugary solution on the material, the fungus ate it all up and then went back to being dormant. As long as the material stayed moist and didn't dry out, it kept working, one of the researchers told the Globe & Mail.
The group, led by associate professor of chemical and bioengineering Wendelin Stark and PhD student Lukas Gerber, published an article about the material this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers say the material could still work after being rubbed with alcohol disinfectant as well as following a soapy scrubbing. Although their fungus wrap was prepared as a conceptual design, Gerber told Globe & Mail reporter Tu Thanh Ha that he envisions the fungi eventually being used to make antimicrobial fabrics that activate only when certain germs are present.
"Composites of classical industrial ingredients and living microorganisms can provide a novel form of functional or smart materials," the researchers wrote in PNAS. Not too shabby for a cheese mold.
Image: Max Straeten