Researchers at MIT have come up with a new way to grow "wood-like plant material" in a lab, without ever having to resort to chopping down a tree.

Lab-Grown Lumber

Deforestation is a bigger problem than ever, with humans razing ten million hectares of forest each year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

To tackle the problem head-on, researchers at MIT have come up with a new way to grow "wood-like plant material" in a lab, according to a statement, potentially paving the way for an environmentally friendly new source for lumber that doesn’t harm existing trees.

Such lumber could be used to frame houses, make them more efficient, or even grow environmentally friendly furniture, the researchers say.

They Wood

To be clear, the researchers haven’t figured out how to grow actual lab-grown wood just yet. But it sounds like they have made significant strides in developing material that resembles plants by culturing cells from young leaves of young Zinnia elegans plants, a common decorative flower, using nutrients and two different hormones.

The material even has some interesting new properties that could potentially make it even more useful than actual lumber. By adjusting the chemicals involved in growing it, the researchers were able to change the material’s stiffness and density, and it can also be printed in virtually any shape using 3D bioprinting techniques.

"There is a lot of potential to expand this and grow three-dimensional structures," said Ashley Beckwith, a recent PhD graduate at MIT and lead author of a new study published in the journal Materials Today, in the statement.

"The idea is that you can grow these plant materials in exactly the shape that you need, so you don’t need to do any subtractive manufacturing after the fact, which reduces the amount of energy and waste," Beckwith added.

Timber Up

The team is now evaluating whether the same method could be transferred to different species, like pine, making it a potentially game-changing environmentally alternative to cutting down trees.

"Trees and forests are an amazing tool for helping us manage climate change, so being as strategic as we can with these resources will be a societal necessity going forward," Beckwith said.

READ MORE: Toward customizable timber, grown in a lab [MIT]

More on lumber: Scientists Create Clear, Glasslike Material Out of Wood

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