Magdalena Thur

The resomation of fungal tissue

Could mushrooms provide the future fabric for death shrouds?

Mediamatic's search for a vegan cloth which can be used in Resomation – an environmentally friendly alternative burial method – lead to testing fungal material.

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Glass jars containing fungal material, prepared for Resomation test (Alkaline Hydrolysis) - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

What happens to our bodies after death?

When choosing Resomation as a burial method, the answer is just as fascinating as it might give you the shivers: In this process, the human body is dissolved in lye, a highly alkaline fluid. After being pressure-cooked for a couple of hours, only bones will remain, while every other body tissues will have liquified.

Resomation is a low-energy, space-saving and environmentally friendly way to return the compounds of the human body back into the earth's material cycles: The resulting effluent is loaded with nutrients that make it a powerful fertilizer, and the Carbon footprint is significantly smaller than e.g. in Cremation.

However, one catch remains: Fibrous plant-based fabrics – including common clothing materials like cotton – do not dissolve completely in the Resomation process. Hence, animal-based fabrics like silk and wool usually are employed for clothing the Deceased for their resomation burial.

To find a viable non-animal alternative, Mediamatic's Clean Lab team set out to research which fabrics could be used as a shroud in resomation burials. Being fungi-lovers, testing mushroom-based tissue for its potential was a must. And the results are surprising!

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The Team in front of the Clean Lab conducting the Resomation Test - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

First, various samples were assembled: Besides four types of mushrooms (Rhizopus oligosporus, Lentinula edodes, Pleurotus ostreatus and Pleurotus eryngii) a chicken thigh went into one of the jars as well, to verify the proper setup of the trial. 

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Resomation Test sample tissues in glass jars on metal tray - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

Then, the Potassium-Hydroxide was measured and mixed with de-mineralized water, resulting in a highly alkaline lye with pH of 13,95.

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Measuring Potassium-Hydroxide for mixing the lye - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

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Mixing Potassium-Hydroxide with de-mineralized water - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

The jars holding the samples were filled with lye and closed off with heat-resistant plastic and a cotton rope.

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Pouring lye into jars holding samples for Resomation test - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

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Closing the sample jars with cotton rope - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

The samples then were placed into a stainless-steel pressure cooker and cooked at high pressure for 1,5 hours.

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Placing glass jars into pressure cooker pot - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

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Heating up pressure cooker in outdoor setting - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

After cooling down, the test jars were collected from the cooker.

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Collecting the resomated samples from pressure cooker - Elizabeth Vasilyeva

Our control sample – the chicken thigh – almost completely dissolved in the lye, leaving behind only small pieces of brittle bone.

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The remains of a chicken thigh after Resomation - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

In contrast to animal tissue, the mushroom samples remained surprisingly intact.

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Lifting shiitake mushroom sample out of its jar after resomation - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

Here is what the Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) fruiting body looked like, after being pressure-cooked in strong lye: unimpressed!

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Shiitake mushroom sample after Resomation test - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

A piece of King Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus eryngii), also survived, almost undestroyed. 

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A piece of King Oyster mushroom after Resomation test - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

Similarly, the mycelium of Grey Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) grown on wheat spelt endured the unfavorable conditions of the test.

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Oyster Mushroom Mycelium grown on spelt, after Resomation test - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

Last but not least, even the two Tempeh samples came out of the lye cooker a little tanned, but otherwise highly intact.

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Tempeh pieces after resomation, being neutralized with Vinegar - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

The liquids were still highly alkaline. However, after adding sufficient amounts of water for dilution, they are non-hazardous and can safely be discarded via the sewage system.

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Checking the pH with indicator strip dipped in lye shows high alkalinity - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva

The Clean Lab Team – Magdalena, Nadja and Elnaz – is happy about the gain of knowledge resulting from the experiment. And being amazed by the superhuman strength of mushroom and mycelium, they turned into even bigger fans of fungi.

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Clean Lab team is happy about failed experiment - Part of the experiment "The resomation of fungal tissue" Elizabeth Vasilyeva