Nanotrees that Produce Metals, Plastics and Composites - News Item

Researchers at Poland’s Institute of Theoretical and Applied Information Technologies in Poland are working on the development of trees that produce plastic, metals, metal alloys and composite materials rather then the more customary wood.

Genetic engineering currently modifies organisms that already exist, these organisms will be entirely designed by man and are expected to be grown commercially around 2030.

Just as humans and animals are able to produce materials such as bone, horn, skin and hair, these artificial organisms will be able to produce materials of predetermined chemical composition. These may vary from materials that we currently have at our disposal to new and advanced materials we cannot presently produce. The difference will be that they will be available in large quantities at relatively inexpensively.

The raw materials are commonly available in present day garbage dumps and industrial waste. The ‘roots’ of the nanotrees will be able to harvest the elements in the decaying waste sites of the 20th century.

The nanotrees will have the ability to split into the required planks, sheets, wires or other shape formats upon maturation of the plant. This is particularly important for extremely hard materials as it will minimise or eliminate difficult post harvest machining. Waste products such as the piles of sawdust produced when current timber boards are cut will be a thing of the past.

The mechanism required to achieve this goal is relatively simple but difficult to achieve. Just as we are familiar with how computers run programs to produce an end calculation, organisms use DNA as the program and the living cell is the operating system. The end result is the growth of particular chemical compounds in the form of new cells. Genome mapping is complete so we know how these biological programs work. What is needed now is knowledge of how the operating systems synthesise base compounds into larger tissue structures.

Once these cellular chemical transformations are understood, the door is opened to the synthesis of new genes linked to artificial DNA strands. When combined with the appropriate chemical system, the processes will arrange selected atoms in the required manner to produce the desired material.

Since these nanoplants will be produced artificially, they will not only be a different colour from normal plants, but they will also take their energy from the waste materials they are planted in. Furthermore, they will not photosynthesise like normal plants and consequently not have leaves or branches.

Since the nanoplants are totally artificial they pose no threat to existing plants through hybridisation as they will have incompatible DNA. They can also be engineered to be completely sterile.

Nanoplants will not compete with current agricultural lands as they will be designed to utilise barren, polluted and industrial land that is otherwise considered toxic or unsuited to traditional development or farming practices. The nanoplants themselves are expected to be based upon carbonic structures (most likely fullerenes) and have rootstock that, after death or maturity, can be collected and destroyed by burning or left to compost naturally like normal plants.

 

Posted February 4th, 2004

 

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