Microbes make new plastics

Plastics don’t have to be made from petroleum.

To prove the point, researchers at Aivan, a Finnish design studio, made a set of headphones from plastics created by yeast, fungi, and other micro-organisms.

The hard plastic frame that straddles a person’s head was 3D-printed from a biodegradable plastic grown by the lactic acid in baker’s yeast. The padding surrounding your ears was grown by a fungus whose cells make a foaming protein that the designers melded with plant cellulose to add extra stability to the shape. The foam is covered by a leather-like sheath made from mycelium, the root-like tendrils of a kind of mushroom.

A protein similar to spider silk was produced by a microbe to make the screening that covers the speakers.


More demonstrations like Aivan’s will be making headlines as the world looks for ways to make plastic without oil or natural gas. However, any such transition to non-petroleum plastics will take many years, if not decades, as technologies vie for dominance and infrastructures for manufacturing and recycling are gradually built up.

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