What if I told you that your children might live in houses made of mushrooms? Perhaps you might think I had eaten one mushroom too many. But this is no fairy tale. Mushrooms — or more specifically, the mycelium network of underground roots and fibers that feed up to the sprouted stem and cap of the mushroom fruit — will be a crucial tool for humans as we seek to create better, more sustainable, and more adaptable materials with which to build our futures.

“These materials are five times stronger than petroleum-based products, such as polystyrene; grow on agricultural waste with low carbon inputs; have a minimal environmental impact; and are fully biodegradable,” explains Tien Huynh, an associate professor in the School of Science at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Huynh has extensive experience researching fungi and mycelia and their roles inside our bodies and as part of the wider ecosystem.

Mycelium is made of microfilaments called hyphae, which take in nutrients to feed the mushroom. It is remarkably resilient, can be grown in extreme conditions, and can take on different properties to make it an ideal material for a host of applications, Huynh says. It can even solve complex routing problems and cover vast distances (the largest network spans more than 2,385 acres). But the promise of this natural wonder material comes with its own challenges, too.

“It’s a living organism,” Huynh says. “It’s prone to contamination, and a lot of experimentation is needed to perfect the final product.”

But despite the challenges, it has become increasingly clear in the last 10 years that fungal networks have the potential to shape the future of architecture, fashion, and even consumer electronics.

Still think I’m tripping? Here are three ways mushrooms are being used to push the boundaries of design and function.

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