Growing Furniture

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Although humans have exploited nature in many ways for their benefit, we are still adopting almost the same methods for cultivating materials in forests and farms without any fundamental changes. Relying on forests for the furniture industry constitutes a strain on the resources of our planet, as humans cut down about 900 million trees annually. Moreover, 92% of the world forests are unprotected; as a result, forests fall victim to unsustainable, even illegal, harvest. This practice exposes biological species to danger and threatens the tribes that inhabit the land; it also aggravates the global warming problem. Additionally, we invest many resources in complete plant cultivation although we only use a very small part of the produce.

Cultivated Furniture: A Substitute to Tree Wood!

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, have proposed growing furniture in vitro. They succeeded in cultivating plant tissues extracted from the fast growing zinnia plant. These tissues contain wood-like fibers that can be grown in vitro without the need for soil or sunlight. They distributed the tissues in petri dishes, then moved the cells into a gel material to serve as a scaffold or mold for the growing wood.

After that, researchers added two kinds of plant hormones, namely Auxin and Cytokinin, and controlled their levels to control the cells growth; the product is an organic polymer named Lignin. Lignin exists naturally in plant cells, especially wood and bark cells; with the production of Lignin, cells grew and formed a hard wood-like structure.

This process is similar to 3D printing; just as cultivating plant tissues starts with cells and not seeds, the cells print themselves directed by hormones and the gel scaffolds to grow into a specific shape. Molding opens the door for a whole set of opportunities in the furniture industry. The researchers believe that future tables can grow without the need for any chemicals or adhesives. However, we still do not know much about whether this process is practically feasible, since it requires huge investments on the governmental and the private sector levels.

With development, this process can relieve the pressure practised on our forests and arable lands. Such in-vitro-grown plants would not rely on climate, pesticides, or arable lands. Moreover, growing the useful parts only would save wasting excess parts such as the bark, leaves, etc.

Increased awareness of unsustainable practices will continue supporting innovations in such sectors. Although we still have a long way ahead before in-vitro-grown furniture becomes a reality, it is still considered an example of the marvellous achievements of science and technology, and a glimpse of the future of sustainable furniture industry.

References

bbc.com
futurehuman.medium.com
news.mit.edu
singularityhub.com
sustainability-times.com
technologyreview.com
wired.com

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