MIT Researchers Could Soon Grow Furniture in a Lab Setting

Similar to lab-grown meat in principle, researchers work on growing plant matter into desired shapes with scaffolding.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Lab-grown meat alternatives are all the rage so it's not surprising to see that MIT researchers are looking into growing other products in labs. One such item is wood.

There are many reasons why this would be a wonderful idea. For starters, wood produced in labs would take much less time to grow than trees, which take decades to develop into the wood we use for manufacturing.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, lab-made wood would reduce the need to cut down trees from our precious forests that are there to bring us much-needed oxygen and clean our air of pollutants. They would also make wood available anytime and anywhere.

"Current systems for plant-based biomaterial production are inefficient and place unsustainable demands on environmental resources. This work proposes a novel solution to these shortcomings based on selective cultivation of tunable plant tissues using scalable, land-free techniques unconstrained by seasonality, climate, or local resource availability," write the researchers in their abstract.

The researchers further report that the cells for creating wood objects would be extracted from the leaves of a zinnia plant and would not require any soil or sunlight to develop. These cells could even be coaxed in a lab to grow into specific shapes like a chair.

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This would reduce a lot of the waste that is associated with wood products. Trees grow in long cylindrical shapes, so when we build furniture out of it, we inadvertently waste a lot of wood that is simply not reused in many cases.

The work is still in its early stages, which means we won't be seeing any zinnia-made furniture just yet. However, it is an important step toward making more sustainable eco-friendly wood products.

If successful, it could also make wood products more popular than the dangerous plastics that pollute our Earth and oceans.  Wouldn't that be neat?

The study is published in the journal Cleaner Production.