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Lab-grown plant matter marks a step towards 3D-printable wood

Date: 27.5.2022 

Chopping down trees and processing the wood isn’t the most efficient or environmentally friendly way to make furniture or building materials. Scientists at MIT have now made breakthroughs in a process that could one day let us 3D print and grow wood directly into the shape of furniture and other objects.

Kredit: Rbreidbrown, Wikimedia Commons.Wood may be a renewable resource, but we’re using it up much faster than we’re replenishing it. Deforestation is having a drastic impact on wildlife and exacerbating the effects of climate change. Since our appetite for wooden products isn’t likely to change, our methods for obtaining it will have to.

In recent years, researchers have turned to growing wood in the lab. Not trees – just the wood itself, not unlike the ongoing work into cultivating animal cells for lab-grown meat, rather than raising live animals and slaughtering them.

And now, a team of MIT scientists has demonstrated a new technique that can grow wood-like plant material in the lab, allowing for easy tuning of properties like weight and strength as needed.

First, the team isolated cells from the leaves of plants known as Zinnia elegans. Then, these cells were cultured in a liquid medium for two days before being transferred to a thicker, gel-based medium. This stuff contained nutrients and two different plant hormones, the levels of which could be tweaked to tune the physical and mechanical properties of the material.

Next, the team 3D printed this cell-loaded gel into a specific shape, the same way you’d 3D print a plastic object. After three months of incubation in the dark, the material is dehydrated and the final result is a custom object made of wood-like plant matter.





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