As a result of deforestation, the land loses about 10 million hectares of forest – an area about the size of Iceland – each year. At that rate, some researchers predict that the world’s forests may disappear in 100 to 200 years.
To provide a more environmentally friendly and low-cost alternative, MIT researchers have pioneered the process of developing plant-based materials such as wood in the lab, enabling a person to “grow” wood products as a table without need. Cut down trees, trim logs, etc.
These researchers have now shown that by modifying certain chemicals used during the growing process, they can more accurately control the physical and mechanical properties of the resulting plant material, such as its strength and durability.
They also show that using 3D bioprinting techniques, and they can grow plant material in shapes, sizes, and forms that are not found in nature and can be easily reproduced using traditional agricultural methods.
“The idea is that you can grow these plants the way you need them, so you do not have to do any of the production that you produce after the fact, which reduces the amount of energy and waste. There are many opportunities to expand this and develop three-dimensional structures,” said lead author Ashley Beckwith, a recent Ph.D. graduate.
Although still in its early days, this study shows that plant-grown plant materials can be processed into specific features, which may one day give researchers the ability to plant wood products with the necessary components of a particular system, such as high wall support. Of house or other heating elements to heat a room successfully, explains senior author Luis Fernando Velásquez-García.
To begin growing plant material in the lab, the researchers first isolate cells from the leaves of young Zinnia elegant plants. The cells are cultured in a liquid medium for two days and then transferred to a gel-based medium containing nutrients and two different hormones.
Adjusting the hormone levels at this stage enables researchers to tune the physical and mechanical properties of the plant cells that grow in that nutrient-rich broth.
“In the human body, you have hormones that determine how your cells develop and how certain traits emerge. In the same way, by changing the hormone concentrations in the nutrient broth, the plant cells respond differently. Just by manipulating these tiny chemical quantities, we can elicit pretty dramatic changes in terms of the physical outcomes,” Beckwith says.