A study on the new 3D-printed plant materials titled "Physical, mechanical, and microstructural characterization of novel, 3D-printed, tunable, lab-grown plant materials generated from Zinnia elegans cell cultures" has been published in the journal Materials Today.
Researchers from MIT have developed a method of generating "wood-like plant material" in a laboratory as a more environmentally friendly means of acquiring wood-like material than cutting down trees. Currently, about 10 million hectares of forest are lost to deforestation, an area roughly equivalent to the size of Iceland. Some scientists predict that if deforestation continues at the same rate, in 100 to 200 years, there will be no forests left in the world.
"The idea is that you can grow these plant materials in exactly the shape that you need, so you don't need to do any subtractive manufacturing after the fact, which reduces the amount of energy and waste. There is a lot of potential to expand this and grow three-dimensional structures," said lead author Ashley Beckwith, a recent PhD graduate.
The researchers created cell cultures from leaves of the Zinnia elegans plant on liquid and gel mediums with various nutrients and two different hormones. Adjusting the levels of these hormones allowed the researchers to achieve the specific physical and mechanical characteristics of the plant cells they desired as they grew. From there, they could use a 3D printer to extrude the cell culture gel solution to create specific structures.
"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 continued.
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