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First man-made biological leaf to make oxygen for space travel

Julian Melchiorri

Julian MelchiorriLondon: An inventor in the UK has developed the world’s first synthetic biological leaf that absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen just like a plant, and it could enable long-distance space travel.

The leaf, created by Royal College of Art student Julian Melchiorri, consists of chloroplasts suspended in a matrix made out of silk protein.

“The material is extracted directly from the fibres of silk,” Melchiorri said.

“This material has an amazing property of stabilising molecules. I extracted chloroplasts from plant cells and placed them inside this silk protein. As an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does,” he said.

Like the leaves of a plant, Melchiorri’s Silk Leaf needs light and a small amount of water to produce oxygen, ‘Dezeen’ reported.

“Silk Leaf is the first man-made biological leaf. It’s very light, low energy-consuming, it’s completely biological,” Melchiorri said.

“Plants don’t grow in zero gravity. NASA is researching different ways to produce oxygen for long-distance space journeys to let us live in space. This material could allow us to explore space much further than we can now,” said Melchiorri.

The Silk Leaf project was developed as part of the Royal College of Art’s Innovation Design Engineering course in collaboration with Tufts University silk lab.

Melchiorri said the leaf could also be used for outdoor applications.

“So facades, ventilation systems. You can absorb air from outside, pass it through these biological filters and then bring oxygenated air inside,” he said.


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