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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Agriculture and forestry account for over 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, but what if you could grow only the parts of the plant you want in a lab like lab made meats using no chemicals and without any of the waste?

 

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Today we have the technology to produce meat, like bacon, beef, chicken, duck, fish, and, of course, Panda and Zebra, in a lab without the need to ever rear or kill an animal. We can also produce leather, milk, soya, and a variety of other animal products without the animal too.

Ultimately the benefit of being able to grow these products in labs means we have a way to eliminate over 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that come directly from the rearing and transportation of meats and food stuffs – as well as being able to eliminate all the anti-biotics and chemicals used to rear them all as well.

 

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So far this all sounds all well and good, but how about applying this same technique to other environmentally questionable practises like forestry to produce wood in new ways?

This week, a couple of years after researchers elsewhere showed off their genetically engineered wood products, researchers at MIT announced they’ve developed a new method for growing plant tissues in a lab — sort of like how companies and researchers are approaching lab grown meat. The process would be able to produce wood and fibre in a lab environment, and researchers have already demonstrated how it works in concept by growing simple structures using cells harvested from Zinnia leaves.

 

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The work is still in its very early stages, but the potential applications of lab grown plant material are significant, and include possibilities in both agriculture and in construction materials. While traditional agriculture is much less ecologically damaging when compared to animal farming, it can still have a significant impact and cost, and it takes a lot of resources to maintain. Not to mention that even small environmental changes can have a significant effect on crop yield.

Forestry, meanwhile, has much more obvious negative environmental impacts. If the work of these researchers can eventually be used to create a way to produce lab grown wood for use in construction and fabrication in a way that’s scalable and efficient, then there’s tremendous potential in terms of reducing the impact on forestry globally. Eventually, the team even theorizes you could coax the growth of plant-based materials into specific target shapes, so you could also do some of the manufacturing in the lab, by growing a wood table directly for instance.

 

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There’s still a long way to go from what the researchers have achieved. They’ve only grown materials on a very small scale, and will look to figure out ways to grow plant-based materials with different final properties as one challenge. They’ll also need to overcome significant barriers when it comes to scaling efficiencies, but they are working on solutions that could address some of these difficulties.

Lab grown meat is still in its infancy, and lab grown plant material is even newer but it has tremendous potential, even if it takes a long time to get there.

Source: MIT

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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