Lab-grown wood is the new invention scientists are looking into as they have invented means of growing meat in the laboratory. MIT researchers now hope to do the same with wood, producing wood in a lab, something that would take decades to grow in nature.
From this point, they could even make wood tissue to develop into fully-formed shape, like a chair. This effort will help to mitigate the negative environmental harm of the logging and construction industries.
In the Journal of Cleaner Production, the researchers explain how they grew wood-like plant tissue from cells they got from the leaves of a zinnia plant. According to a principal scientist in the Microsystems Technology Laboratories at MIT, these plant cells are similar to stem cells and can be many things.
Since these plant cells can be tuned into any shape they want, Ashley Beckwith, mechanical engineering PhD student and the lead author of the paper, maintains they this process could be used to grow more efficient materials.
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Trees grow in tall cylindrical poles, and we rarely use tall cylindrical poles in industrial applications. So you end up shaving off a bunch of material that you spent 20 years growing and that ends up being a waste product.Ashley
Their idea is to grow more practical structures such as rectangular boards or an entire table. This would help to reduce waste and potentially let land currently used for logging be preserved as forest.
The processing of this lab-grown wood is similar to that of lab-grown meat (which is also called cell-cultured meat). However, it is easier to grow plant cell cultures than animal cell cultures, according to Beckwith.
This means that lab-grown wood could become cost-competitive more quickly. Velásquez-García sees this process as a solution to producing everything from furniture to fibers for clothing.
The innovation is still in its very early stages, according to researchers. For now, no one has plans to buy a table made of zinnia. However, when these cells are successfully grown, we have provided a starting point to a new way of producing biomaterials.