The white oak structures are strong enough to deliver fertiliser and fungi as well as seeds
Spotted: Millions of hectares of forest have burned in wildfires in recent years, making it impossible to repair the damage within the next few decades. It takes many years for a forest to establish itself, and thousands of hours to plant seedlings. As a result, topsoil washes away, which further damages an ecosystem’s health and contributes to increased water pollution downstream.
As is becoming increasingly common, a nature-inspired solution could help stop such ecosystem damage. Researchers led by Professor Lining Yao at the Morphing Matter Lab in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University have created a bioengineered seed carrier called an E-seed that pushes seeds and fertiliser deep into the ground. Activated by water, the carriers are made from veneers of white oak. The wood is washed in sodium sulphite and sodium hydroxide for strength and durability, and then mechanically moulded into a twisted shape with three tails at one end.
After loading the materials to be planted into the carrier, the tip is coated and flocked. The carriers are strong enough to carry large seeds, fertilisers, fungi, and a range of other materials. When activated by water, the wood expands and untwists, driving the seed tip down. The carriers are delivered by drones and have the potential to reforest large geographic and inhospitable regions, as well as restore wetlands that are difficult for humans to traverse.
The portability of the carriers and their ability to cover large areas could enable additional applications in other industries including environmental monitoring by implanting sensors. The Carnegie Mellon team has now completed a significant number of field tests in anticipation of adapting the process for industrial use.
Written By: Keely Khoury