Technology seems to have paved way for infusing life into things that we once considered dead. Ask Julian Melchiorri and he will acknowledge that observation. The Royal College of Art graduate was able to develop a silk leaf which can produce oxygen gas. Imagine how easier life gets not only on Earth but also during travel to space with this equipped.

Silk Leaf, synthetic leaf
Courtesy: Julian Melchiorri

This synthetic leaf has been the outcome of efforts in a silk lab from Tufts University. A mix of chloroplasts as well as protein extracted silk were used to create it. Feed it enough water and light, and the synthetic leaf mimics any leaf you would normally see around and it produces oxygen ofcourse. Julian also claims that the synthetic leaf he has created is extremely light and energy efficient. The idea behind the creation was to use its light to illuminate his house; however, it was also to be used for the creation of oxygen at the same time. It is worth noting that Julian is aiming big with his new invention. He believes that the synthetic leaf could allow people to go much further in space than they could ever before. In short: this could be of help to NASA.

Remember that equation you were familiarized with in early school days: 6CO2 + 6H2O + (Sunlight Energy)–> C6H12O6 + 6O2?

What essential component of the equation is missing in this synthetic leaf? That’s right; sugar. For plants to undergo the process of photosynthesis in order to produce food for themselves, they need sugar. There is no explanation whatsoever on the treatment of hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Plus, the lack of stems, roots and vacuoles to store all that food also makes this whole scenario a bit iffy. The claim that plants can’t grow in outer space are not well founded; ISS conducted experiments that proved otherwise. Though, it’s true that a task like that would require a lot of nutrients in which case something like the Silk Leaf could come in handy.