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Fake it Till You Make It: Does this Man-Made Biological Leaf out Nature Nature?

Beam me up Scotty! Julian Melchiorri, a graduate student in innovation design engineering at the UK’s Royal College of Art, has synthesized a "biological" leaf which absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen, just like a "real" leaf would.

Julian Melchiorri told Dezeen: “I have the first photosynthetic material that was working and breathing as a leaf does."

So why do we need a fake leaf that does what leaves already do? Why not just grow more plants and trees when you need them? One reason: the synthetic leaf could enable long-distance space travel.

Gizmodo reported. “The artificial leaves feature chloroplasts extracted from actual plant cells that are suspended in a material made from silk protein. So, when given access to light and water, they still produce oxygen, but they're better suited to surviving off our planet,”

"Plants don't grow in zero gravity," explains Melchiorri. "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."

The leaf can also help create innovative "biological architecture" and be applied for use in buildings and interior design.

Julian Melchiorri's synthetic leaves applied to architecture create a living, breathing building.

"My idea was to use the efficiency of nature in a man-made environment," Julian explained. "I created some lighting out of this material, using the light to illuminate the house but at the same time to create oxygen for us. The material could also be used at a much larger scale. It could [also] be used for outdoor applications, for facades, ventilation systems. You can absorb air from outside, pass it through these biological filters and then bring oxygenated air inside."

Welcome to the future: A place where the difference between man made and natural will be hard to tell and hi-tech and mother nature will co-exist in ways we have yet to imagine.

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