Humans at Bolt – Andi Bruce, Mycologist & Associate Scientist
Our Mylo™ leather alternative comes to life through the collaboration of many. In particular, scientists across disciplines are critical to designing both process and product with the right look, feel, and use. And in trying to craft our mycelium-based material, made from the underlying structure of fungi, we turn to the experts – mycologists, or scientists who study fungi.
Read on to get to know one of our mycologists, Associate Scientist Andi Bruce.
After fostering a passion for sustainability in college, Andi embarked on travels around the world and got her first taste of a fungi-fueled future.
“I kept meeting amateur mycologists who were all fascinating people studying mushrooms from their own homes,” she recounts. Upon her return home to San Francisco, all signs seemed to point to mycelium – notably, stumbling upon a book all about the use of fungi in breaking down environmental pollutants, Paul Stamets’ Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.
“That was when it clicked for me – that fungi were not just beautiful and interesting, but there were really exciting applications for fungi in the work toward a more sustainable future.”
This prompted Andi to volunteer at a UC Irvine mycology lab, and then undertake a graduate program at the University of Wisconsin La-Crosse to study mycology, population genomics, and bioremediation. Soon after graduation, she joined the team at Bolt Threads.
Andi now designs and analyzes experiments to perfect the way we grow mycelium for Mylo™.
“Every day in the lab is different,” she enthuses. The team fine-tunes the environmental factors that will affect the final look and feel of the mycelium, like the type of substrate the mycelium is grown on and how much light, moisture, and airflow it gets.
“Operators go in and take sterilized substrate, mixing it with fungus spawn. On these days they experiment with different substrates, spawns, and environmental factors. So it’s a lot of weighing and adding spawn into the growth substrate, mixing up sawdust, and packing it into the grow trays,” she explains.
Reimagining mycelium into a workable material requires further experimentation still. For example: “The fungus we use naturally grows on wood and is native to North America. In its natural habitat, it forms fruiting bodies that are tough, brick-red conks. The mycelium we grow for Mylo is a nice even surface, whereas a fungus in its natural habitat wants to fruit or grow mushrooms,” she notes. The team has had to craft and iterate on an environment that prevents this type of natural growth.
It is these intrepid colleagues, with their shared drive for sustainability, that are part of the joy of working at Bolt Threads for her.
“Not only are these people fabulous in their own right, but they’re also so good at what they do,” Andi says. “I get to work on diverse teams where no individual person is the expert because nobody has tried to do this type of work before. So you’ve got chemists and geneticists and engineers and programmers, and everyone’s so smart in their own respective field and we’re all trying to come together to produce this unique product.”
It’s deeply scientific but still feels magical to Andi. “I feel like doing research is like discovering something new that nobody else knows. That is so wild to me, it feels like I’m learning a secret about nature.”