Plastic alternative

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have found a way to turn cells from tobacco plants into a strong material with wood-like mechanical properties, offering a potential alternative to unsustainable plastic, reports MIT Technology Review.

The material’s stiffness and strength reportedly surpass that of commercial plastics of similar density, like polystyrene and low-density polyethylene, while being entirely biodegradable.

To test the biodegradability of the new material, the researchers buried their samples in agricultural soil along with ordinary wood and watched what happened. Both samples initially gained weight by absorbing water from the soil, but then both broke down naturally.

“We observe an almost complete biodegradation of the biocomposite 14 weeks after initial incubation,” a team member said.