Fungus that preserves wood - not attack it!

Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology have, for years, studied the effect of black fungi on oiled wood that behave like a ‘biofinish’. This layer colours the wood and protects it from wood rot and degradation by sunlight and the fungus automatically repairs damage in the protective layer.

The discovery had already been made almost 20 years ago, by chance, by researcher Michael Sailer who investigated whether vegetable oil can conserve wood. He discovered that pieces of coniferous wood impregnated with linseed oil and hemp oil turned black after being exposed to wind and weather but the discoloured wood did not become soft, like rotten wood, it remained hard.

Elke van Nieuwenhuijzen, who did her thesis on the subject along with the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute in Utrecht, has now thoroughly investigated the natural fungal composition of these layers. She laid planks of three types of wood (spruce, pine, ilomba) that were impregnated with three types of oil (olive oil, crude linseed oil, stand oil). The fungi then formed automatically and on some planks formed an opaque black layer.

The effect of the protective layer partly results from the discoloration: the black layer blocks UV light, and thus prevents degradation.  Researchers also suspects that the dark pigmented fungi, due to their exuberant presence, do not give any chance to wood-destroying fungi. That oil repels water is probably beneficial for the dark pigmented fungi. Water then lies in droplets on the wood, which is where the fungus thrives.

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