Melanin is a common class of pigments found in nature, including human skin and browning bananas. Isolated, it’s worth more than gold, pound for pound. That’s because despite a lot of potential applications for the material, efforts to economically produce melanin in large quantities by synthesis, fermentation, or extraction have so far failed. Now researchers at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, may have found a way to get it by culturing the fungus Armillaria cepistipes. Under the right growth conditions, A. cepistipes will secrete melanin—as shown by the yellow, orange, and brown color colors in the photo above—instead of just hoarding the pigment in its cells. The Empa team says if they can scale up the method, it could enable melanin to be used affordably in dyes, antifungal treatments, and even aquatic lead abatement.
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