“If you want a table, then you should just grow a table.”
—Luis Fernando Velásquez-García
A group of researchers at MIT are growing wood from plant-cells in a lab, creating “cultured wood”. The idea is to streamline the production of timber whilst mitigating the environmental effects of the industry—similar to that of “cultured meat”.
How it works:
Live cells are extracted from zinnia leaves and encouraged to grow in a nutrient solution. Then the cells are moved to a gel that is laced with two hormones: auxin and cytokinin. By altering the levels of hormones in the gel the researchers can control the cells’ production of lignin—an organic polymer that lends wood its firmness.
The gel then acts as scaffolding for the cells, giving it moldable properties and can be personalized for specific needs as “plant cells are similar to stem cells in the sense that they can become anything if they are induced to, enabling us to tailor the shape from conception.”( Researcher Luis Fernando Velásquez-García)
“You can visually evaluate which cells are becoming lignified, and you can measure enlargement and elongation of cells.”—Ashley Beckwith, researcher & PHD student
Could it replace the logging/timber industry?
The researchers will need a lot of investment to scale up testing and make it market ready and economical. However, if achieved it could make the logging industry completely obsolete and inefficient.
We are all for labs solving world problems! Take a look at lab-grown palm oil, cultured meat, and cultured cotton, as other great examples!