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Man-made leaves to produce oxygen in space

Posted on Aug 01 2014 | IANS

London, Aug 1 : Astronauts may soon rely on man-made leaves for their oxygen supply during space travel.

The world's first synthetic biological leaf which absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen just like a plant has now been developed.

"The discovery could enable long-distance space travel, indicating that the leaf could even help humans colonise space one day," said Julian Melchiorri, the designer of the leaf from Royal College of Art in Britain.

Plants do not grow in zero gravity, Melchiorri explained.

"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," Melchiorri was quoted as saying in media reports.

Melchiorri's Silk Leaf project, which he developed as part of the Royal College of Art's Innovation Design Engineering course in collaboration with Tufts University silk lab, consists of chloroplasts suspended in a matrix made out of silk protein.

"The material is extracted directly from the fibres of silk and has an amazing property of stabilising molecules.

"I extracted chloroplasts from plant cells and placed them inside this silk protein. As an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does," Melchiorri maintained.

Like the leaves of a plant, all Melchiorri's "Silk Leaf" needs to produce oxygen is light and a small amount of water, Dezeen reported.

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