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Vat Wood

Save the Trees
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A fairly long-term goal of the biological sciences has been to grow meat in a petri dish. It would mean no more animal mistreatment and slaughterhouses, just so we can eat meat. Some success has been achieved (see link); we are now mostly waiting to see if the process can be scaled up, to large vats.

Well now! If they can do it for meat, why not do it for wood? Lots of trees get cut down every year to make lumber; just think of the CO2 those trees could instead be extracting from the air, reducing Global Warming, if they were left alone!

There is a special "trick" needed when growing wood. See, meat cells can grow in all directions, because we want hunks of meat. But wood cells on a tree normally grow from the core of the trunk (or branch) outward to the bark. There is in actual fact only a thin layer of living cells, just under the bark, that is responsible for each year's growth of wood, in a tree.

We want to start with an AREA of such cells, and encourage them to grow in one direction. Gravity might prove helpful, in providing such encouragement. We also want them to grow lots faster than they normally do in the wild. That's OK because nobody worries about tree-growth hormones; nobody is planning on eating the wooden result, after all!

So, as the cells grow and produce wood, various shapes can be produced with very little sawing needed. For example, imagine a plain wooden board, maybe half a meter wide, two cm thick, and a couple meters long. Our "area" of growing cells might be half a meter wide by two cm thick. The length of the board sort-of extrudes from the living cells, as they grow. After a little more than two meters of length have grown/extruded, we cut off our two-meter board, and let the cells keep growing, to produce another, perhaps a three-meter board next time.

Now imagine such wooden extrusions in all the ordinary shapes of regular lumber. Wall studs, large sheets, thin panels, even large timbers suitable for old-fashioned wooden-ship construction.

Vernon, Sep 10 2010

On Growing Meat outside an animal http://en.wikipedia.../wiki/In_vitro_meat
As mentioned in an annotation [Vernon, Sep 10 2010]

Vat #4 http://gutenberg.ne...books01/0100231.txt
""Something has gone wrong in No. 4 vat room," he said. "Perhaps you had better have a look in there." [bungston, Sep 10 2010]

idea found Pre_20shaped_20trees
basically the same idea worked out differently and less deeply. [zeno, Sep 11 2010]

[link]






       ......energy.....solar energy..... how can you forget the energy..for the CO2 at a minimum... it isn't magic after all, just chemistry, and lots of energy......
WcW, Sep 10 2010
  

       [WcW], life is indeed chemistry, but I defy you to say that for the green layer under, say, thick pine tree bark, solar power is the DIRECT energy source for that green layer. I'm almost certain that what actually happens is that the tree leaves collect the solar power and makes appropriate chemicals, and the tree sap carries those chemicals to where the green layer, under the bark, can use it to grow wood. For Vat Wood, we merely need those chemicals! And, yes, of course we need to expend energy to make those chemicals. So? We can grow appropriate other cells in other vats, and illuminate them with sunlight, to get those chemicals!
Vernon, Sep 10 2010
  

       Wood that grows slowly has much better quality.   

       This idea has been done before at least once. I remember some discussion about what the vat should be made of, if concrete or steel would be strong enough.
zeno, Sep 10 2010
  

       I think it may be true that wood that grows slowly has better quality because the cells are smaller, not because it grew slowly. Smaller cells leads to a finer grain of wood, see? But small cells can be influenced to reproduce quickly, just like large cells.....
Vernon, Sep 10 2010
  

       /Wood that grows slowly has much better quality./   

       I suspect that this has much to do with evolutionary selective pressures. K selected trees like oaks are in it for the long haul so can invest more in strength etc. Fast growing R selected trees like poplar have to get tall as fast as possible to exploit short-lived ecologic niches, and so do not invest as heavily in wood quality.   

       But the fact that these trees have evolved to be this way does not mean one could not engineer oak like qualities into a poplar. The engineered oaklike poplar would be less competitive in its own niche, but could be a superior crop in a protected niche: this is agriculture.   

       Rather than go to a vat, why not exploit an organism that already is good at making wood like a poplar, and genetically alter the phenotype of that wood?
bungston, Sep 10 2010
  

       Vat wood ? Zat wood.
FlyingToaster, Sep 10 2010
  

       I'm intruiged by this idea - but have some doubts (as expressed by others) about the structural properties of such a wood and it's probable 'sponginess' - but maybe an alternative approach.   

       As [Vernon] points out, most of what we call wood is actually dead - and the growth is a kind of wavefront that stretches out from the centre - the idea as posted is to promote this growth along the surface of a shaped 'mould' and produce a pre-shaped/extruded nano-material with the properties of wood. (Correct me if I'm wrong about this - but that's my take)   

       BUT - if we model the growth in that way - i.e. horizontally, with a vertical grain, then we're going to end up with a product that snaps easily along that grain.   

       Trees grow in two different ways - first there's a vertical budding motion that provides the tree with its height, cells engaged in this activity are geared to head upwards (either by gravity, or just naturally reaching towards sunlight - i forget which) and then, having established themselves, both thicken out (as per the growth behaviour described in the idea) but there is always a group of pioneering cells right at the top, at the buds, tasked with continuing to reach upwards.   

       I am imagining a great long vat - maybe 100m tall (or long, if we can convince this process to work sideways) within which we engineer a long spindly proto-tree-string - Not sure how we do this, but maybe we somehow encourage a sapling to grow quicker, for longer, foregoing its urge to consolidate and keep the behaviour of the pioneer cells active, behaving more like a creeper, bramble, or other climbing plant. Not sure how we'd do this, but there must be a series of hormones/signalling chemicals that tell the cells how to behave as either pioneers, or consolidators.   

       THEN, once you've got your starter - a great 100m long worm of a tree - that's when you subject it to a sequence of conditions that trick it into thinking that it's going through its normal lifecycle of summer/winter, only super-accelerated (I'm imagining strobe lights, Jacobs Ladders and other fantastic lab equipment featuring highly here) all within the VAT-nutrient-suppliment environment - causing the cells, now in consolidation mode, to rapidly grow, and die, and grow, and die, forming the bulk of the wood - to the point where we can grow a perfectly straight, 100m tall, 5m diameter, branchless tree (or maybe just with a few tufts at the top, minimal anyway) in just a matter of days/weeks.   

       The finished wood is released from the VAT and allowed to cure, before being taken to the sawmill for turning into planks, boards etc.   

       The product would have a traditional grain, giving it the normal properties we expect from wood - and if the process were industrialised, it might just allow for wood production to compete with natural resources - much of the nutrients could be supplied, as Vernon says, through other VAT-brewed organisms (algae perhaps).   

       It would still need to be hewn into the shapes required by the building/furniture industries using traditonal saws, etc - but if the trees could be relied upon to grow into standard shapes/sizes, that again could provide a cost-saving.
zen_tom, Sep 10 2010
  

       but dog damnnit where is the energy going to come from!
WcW, Sep 10 2010
  

       Hamster wheels. Billions of them.
bungston, Sep 10 2010
  

       //Wood that grows slowly has much better quality. \\ For instance, old mahogany is priceless, it grew in forests a long time ago. Then people planted it in a better environment with more sunshine and more rain and it grew like crazy, Same trees same seeds, same saplings, different conditions. And now the quality of grown mahogany is much worse than old mahogany.   

       Pinewood, which isn't very hard can grow oak-like qualities in remote forests or it can be very soft when grown commercially.
zeno, Sep 11 2010
  
      
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