Your Next Favorite Handbag Could be Made of Mushroom Leather

Bolt Threads
Bolt Threads

From the makers of imitation spider silk comes a new eco-friendly material: mushroom leather. Invented by Bolt Threads, the material is called Mylo—short for mycelium, the fungi filaments that are used to create the leather.

Not only does it look like real leather, but it feels like it too, according to the California-based company. For the past nine years, Bolt Threads has been using biotechnology to take materials found in nature and transform them into never-before-seen textiles. As the company prefers to put it: “Animal leather is so 1st century.”

Bolt Threads partnered with biomaterials company Ecovative to license the technology. Mycelium cells are grown in a lab, and different variables like temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels are controlled to create a large fibrous network that looks a lot like leather, Fast Company reports.

“We cut it into slices, and it goes through a process not dissimilar to how animal hides are tanned to become leather, except it’s more environmentally friendly,” Dan Widmaier, founder and CEO of Bolt Threads, explained.

By tweaking the growth process, they can change the strength, durability, and suppleness of the leather.

While mushroom leather might not sound like the most luxurious material, the company has found an unlikely ally in the fashion industry. English designer Stella McCartney, daughter of Paul McCartney, crafted a handbag out of Mylo that has been dubbed the Falabella Prototype One. It’s currently on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which is also showcasing bags that McCartney created for Paris Fashion Week using Microsilk, Bolt Threads’s imitation spider silk material. In an effort to reduce the consumption of real silk, which typically involves the killing of silkworms, McCartney even created a spider silk dress.

Mylo's introduction comes at a time when many haute couture labels are looking to market their products as sustainable. Gucci has been fur-free since last year and it also launched a line of sunglasses made from a biodegradable material. Across the industry, many other luxury labels have opted for alternate, eco-friendly materials. (Pineapple "leather" has been around for a couple of years now.)

Bolt Threads will also be releasing its own Mylo handbag, for which a limited-edition pre-sale will begin in June.

[h/t Fast Company]

Climate Change Is Threatening Nearly All UNESCO Sites Around the Mediterranean

iStock.com/tunart
iStock.com/tunart

The Mediterranean is home to some of the world's most famous cultural wonders, with 49 UNESCO-recognized world heritage sites in the region in total. Now, the organization warns that all but two of these sites are threatened by flooding and erosion linked to climate change, Artnet News reports.

For a recent study, published in the journal Nature Communications, a team of researchers looked at how various possible outcomes of rising sea levels could impact the Mediterranean coast between now and 2100. They found that even if global temperatures rise just 2°C (about 3.6°F) above pre-industrial numbers, the area's most treasured sites will still be at risk.

The places most vulnerable to rising sea levels include the Patriarchal Basilica of Aquileia, the Renaissance city of Ferrara, and the city of Venice. When it comes to erosion, Tyre in Lebanon, the archaeological sites of Tárraco in Spain, and the Ephesus in Turkey face the most pressing danger.

A handful of world heritage sites along the Mediterranean Sea, like the Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna and the Cathedral of St. James, could potentially be relocated as an extreme final option. Only two sites on the list—Medina of Tunis and Xanthos-Letoon—would be safe from the flooding and erosion spurred by climate change.

Rising global temperatures are on track to reshape coasts, not just in the Mediterranean, but around the world. In addition to historic sites, homes and airports are also under threat.

[h/t Artnet News]

New Study Reveals 'Hyper-Alarming' Decline of Rainforest Insect Populations

iStock/jmmf
iStock/jmmf

Climate change is decimating yet another vital part of the world's ecosystem, according to a startling new paper. Rainforest insects are dying off at alarming rates, according to a new study spotted by the The Washington Post. In turn, the animals that feed off those insects are decreasing, too.

In the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a pair of scientists from the Rensselaer Polytechnic University in New York and the National Autonomous University of Mexico studied populations of rainforest arthropods (an invertebrate classification that includes insects and spiders) in the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. They compared the number of insects lead author Bradford Lister found on trips in 1976 and 1977 with the number he and co-author Andres Garcia found on trips they took between 2011 and 2013.

Lister and Garcia used nets and sticky traps to collect insects on the ground and several feet above the ground in the forest canopy. They dried these captured bugs and measured the mass of their haul against the mass of insects found in the 1970s, finding that the modern net sweeps captured only an eighth to a fourth of the insects captured in the '70s. The mass of insects captured by sticky traps on the ground declined by 30 to 60 times what they were a few decades ago. They also tracked populations of lizards, frogs, and birds that live off those rainforest insects, finding that those populations had declined significantly, too, at levels not seen in other rainforest animals that don't rely on insects for food.

Tropical insects are particularly vulnerable to climatic changes, since they can't regulate their body temperature. During the time of the study, average maximum temperatures in El Yunque rose by almost 4°F (2°C). The warming climate is "the major driver" of this decline in arthropod populations, the study authors write, triggering a collapse of the forest food chain.

The paper has other scientists worried. "This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read," University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, who wasn't involved in the research, told The Washington Post, calling the results "hyper-alarming." Other studies of insect populations have found similarly dire results, including significant declines in butterflies, moths, bees, and other species. One recent study found that Germany's flying insect populations had decreased by as much as 75 percent in the last three decades. Scientists don't always attribute those population losses directly to warmer temperatures (habitat loss, pesticide use, droughts, and other factors might play a role), but it’s clear that insect populations are facing grave threats from the modern world.

Not all insect species will be equally affected by climate change, though. While we may see a sharp drop in the populations of tropical insects, scientists project that the number of insects in other regions will rise—leading to a sharp increase in crop-eating pests in some parts of the world and broadening mosquitos' geographical range.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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