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posted 14 September 2016 at 12:52:20

We all know that 3D printing technology is developing in leaps and bounds, but scientists in New Zealand are pushing boundaries even further by suggesting that they can 3D print trees to combat the rapid, damaging deforestation of the planet.

Associate Professor David Lueng, pictured, of the University of Canterbury's Biological Services Department, has been given a government grant to explore the production of synthetic wood by 3D bioprinting live plant cells. If successful, this experiment could eventually mean that, instead of cutting down trees to make wooden objects such as furniture, a synthetic, sustainable wood could be 3D printed instead, saving millions of trees and hugely benefiting the environment.

Professor Leung says, 'Although challenging, there is potential to use live cells as an advanced manufacturing material in a yet-to-be invented, new industry.

'Live eucalyptus tree cells will be prepared specifically for bioprinting. They will be physiologically primed in a 3D structure in the biotech lab at the University of Canterbury, without any genetic modification, to be capable of responding to the appropriate triggers for transformation into a principal wood cell called a tracheid.

'The changes in the cells will be studied in relation to the characteristic morphological features and chemical properties for tracheids using various microscopic, histochemical staining and fluorescence techniques.'

The viability of Professor Leung's methods has already been successfully tested on live green algae cells. If this next step works, it could, one day, vastly reduce the number of trees harvested destructively, which blights many regions around the world, decimating and damaging natural environments and leaving the native wildlife without food and shelter.

It will also catapult 3D printing to the forefront of sustainable science. Definitely one to cheer on!

Image: © University of Canterbury