Research scientists at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have developed a 3D printed biotechnology tool that can grow herbs, berries, and plants in just a week. The scientists see the CellPodincubator as a new way for consumers to produce their own food at home.
For those who have the time and the garden space, growing fruit and vegetables at home can be a rewarding experience—both gastronomically and economically. But what if you could produce your own foods at home without waiting months and months for things to grow? What if you could grow edible foodstuffs in a single week? According to scientists at the VTT, their 3D printed CellPod device enables foodies to do just that. Using the clever incubator, which is a fraction of the size of a greenhouse, users can grow plant cell material from seeds at an unprecedented pace.
To grow food, the 3D printed CellPod device requires only a seed, sunlight, nutrients, and air. It sounds like any planting process, but uses modern biotechnology to accelerate the growth process. “Urbanization and the environmental burden caused by agriculture are creating the need to develop new ways of producing food—CellPod is one of them,” explained VTT research scientist Lauri Reuter. “It may soon offer consumers a new and exciting way of producing local food in their own homes.”
The 3D printed CellPod lets users grow plant cell material from a seed culture, and works with any living plant or combination of plants. After a few days of growing the seed, the device produces a few liters of plant cell mass. This substance contains proteins, fibers, and other beneficial compounds being produced by the plant. According to the VTT, picking undifferentiated cells (which contain the plant’s full genetic potential) allows them to grow only the best parts of the plant. “You get the same result as growing different plants in a greenhouse, but faster and it requires much less space than a greenhouse,” Reuter added.
Though the CellPod could theoretically be used to grow many kinds of plant cell mass, the researchers have successfully used the device to grow cloudberry cells and bramble cells. “The bioreactor also enables the production of healthy food from plants other than traditional food crops, such as birch,” Reuter explained. “The development of tailored cell lines is also possible, in which case nutritional characteristics can be developed according to need. On the other hand, the optimization of growth conditions, such as light and temperature, can also affect the compounds produced by the cells—just like in nature.”
If the idea of a 3D printed kitchen appliance that can grow food in just a week sounds too good to be true, there is one important caveat to the process: one researcher reported that the team was having trouble maintaining the taste of the plants, so investors in the product will need to have seasoning or sugar to hand (or wait until the researchers perfect the device).