Microbes make new plastics


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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.


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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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