By now Spoon readers are most likely familiar with the idea of lab-grown meat. After all, there are a number of companies around the world tackling the issue. But lab-grown plants? That’s something we haven’t heard as much about. However, it’s an idea that got a little boost this week, thanks to new research from MIT (hat tip: TechCrunch).
MIT News reports today that researchers at that university grew wood-like plant structures in a lab from cells extracted from Zinnia leaves. The process is akin to the way meat is grown in a lab: starter plant cells were placed in a growth medium, and then engineers added different hormones and compounds to “tune” the final structure created.
While still very early on, the results from MIT and continued research could have a potential impact on agriculture and the way food is produced. Just as lab-grown meat looks to create actual meat without the environmental strains of raising animals, lab-grown plants could be raised anywhere at anytime, and require less land and fewer inputs.
This new research is actually coming out at a fortuitous time in the agriculture industry. Indoor farms, or controlled ag facilities, are popping up across the country, changing the way our produce is grown. For instance, the first tomatoes grown in AppHarvest’s 60-acre indoor farm in Kentucky hit store shelves this week. The facility is projected to grow 45 million pounds of tomatoes every year.
What if, instead of just controlling the growing conditions of a plant, they could also control the “manufacturing” of the plant as well, reducing the growth time, or developing different nutritional strains on the cellular level. Those controlled ag companies could truly “control” the entire process of growing food from the ground up.
That is still a ways off, but as we’ve seen with cultured meat, innovation in lab-grown food happens quickly.