Artificial Nature: The Silk Leaf

Julian Melchiorri, a graduate student at the Royal College of Art in London, has just made a significant accomplishment: the fabrication of the first ever man-made leaf.

Melchiorri created his invention, which he calls Silk Leaf, by extracting chloroplasts, the organelles in plants that conduct the process of photosynthesis, from plant cells and suspending them in a matrix of silk protein. The resultant synthetic leaf, pictured below, absorbs water and carbon dioxide and produces oxygen in the same way that a real plant would.

Silk-Leaf-by-Julian-Melchiorri_dezeen_01_644

This invention has several major implications. It could be employed to create extremely low-energy ventilation systems, and it could also be the key to long-distance space travel and even human life in space. NASA has been searching for a way to produce oxygen in space in order to allow for longer manned space missions; plants can produce oxygen, but they can’t grow in the zero-gravity environment of space, so using them as sources of oxygen has never been an option–until now.

Should NASA and other agencies like it decide to look into the Silk Leaf, it has the potential to irrevocably change the face of space exploration and mankind’s relationship with space. Manned spacecraft could travel farther and remain longer in space, enabling all manner of new discoveries, and humans might one day be able to live beyond Earth. Though it is still a fledgling concept, the invention of the Silk Leaf represents no less than the unlimited potential of the entire universe.

 

–Maria Juran, Science Editor

Posted by on October 25, 2014. Filed under World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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