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Brief Published: 1 Aug 2014

First Man-Made Bio Leaf

Silk Leaf by Julian Melchiorri

London-based Royal College of Art graduate Julian Melchiorri has engineered the first man-made biological leaf. Made from a silk-based material, it uses photosynthesis to transform carbon dioxide into oxygen.

In collaboration with Tufts University silk lab in Massachusetts, Melchiorri extracted chloroplasts from plant cells and suspended them in a silk matrix (silk protein fibres have the ability to stabilise molecules). The result is a photosynthetic material that is able to breathe and absorb water in the same way as a real leaf.

“My idea was to use the efficiency of nature in a man-made environment,” Melchiorri explained. “It is very light, low energy-consuming and completely biological.”

The new material could be harnessed in applications for architectural facades and interior design to bring oxygenated air into the domestic space. There is also potential for the material to produce oxygen for long-distance space journeys, giving astronauts the opportunity to explore much farther than is currently possible. 

See our Materials Focus 2016 rationale Super Natural for more on merging natural materials with advanced processes. See also The Biology Boom for insights outlining how synthetic biology is driving commercial innovation across the design industries.