Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in the United States, have found a way to grow wood in the laboratory, without using either soil or sunlight. The idea of reproducing cells from parts of organisms in the laboratory without compromising the entire organism can be the starting point for the production of wood without the need to cut down trees.
Speaking on BBC 5 Live’s Naga Munchetty program, lead author of the study, Ashley Beckwith, from MIT in Cambridge, USA, said the idea of selectively reproducing plant tissues, without having to use the entire plant in the process, began with the cultivation of small structures extracted from zinnia, a plant of the daisy family of easy cultivation and abundant throughout America.
To obtain the expected result, the live zinnia cells were cultured in a liquid medium, and stimulated to metabolize and reproduce. Then, the cells were transferred to a gel and subjected to a kind of “tuning” with growing more rigid and wood-like structures, which was done with the use of two plant hormones: auxin and cytokine.
The balance of hormonal variation is crucial to control the cellular production of lignin, a complex organic polymer that unites cellulose fibers and gives firmness to the wood. Finally, the team evaluated the cell composition and structure of the final product using fluorescence microscopy. This allowed us to know which cells were lignified so that their growth and elongation could be measured.
How long does it take to create a laboratory table?
Published in the scientific journal Journal of Cleaner Production, with a release date of March 15, 2021, the study concluded that plant cells can be used in a controlled production process, resulting in a material optimized for a certain purpose.
What is sought here is to increase the size of the structures produced. Furthermore, the process is similar to 3D printing, with the difference that the plants themselves print with the aid of a growth medium inside the gel. The gelatinous material then acts as a support for cell growth.
When questioned by the BBC team that the time to grow enough wood to make a coffee table would be a very slow process, taking a few months, Beckwith replied that “this is much faster than a tree that can take 20 years to grow”.