Scientists tend to be wacky, to say the least, but then that’s what makes them extraordinary; as Aristotle once said ‘No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness’. So when a Canadian biohacker started his own lab, in Ottawa, Canada, for the maddest of projects, you can understand why other people may have been a bit apprehensive. In his own words, he has a love for scouring through people’s rubbish for old electronics that he can then take apart and put back together in weird and wonderful ways; ways that truly capture his creativity.
His fosters an environment in his lab which is centred around asking questions and to play with ideas, and even old rubbish. The culture isn’t to discover groundbreaking science but to have your very own journey with that science; if en route, you happen to unearth a useful fact then all the better. The belief is that if you explore creatively then you will probably find something new but there’s no need to go looking for it.
So what about his new project? Well, for this he turned his attention from old electronics to old vegetables and fruit. One fruit in particular caught this attention, the humble Apple, who knew it had so many versatile applications. Turns out it can even be made to into human ears. Sound ridiculous? Just wait till you hear the story. Take an ordinary Macintosh Apple, remove the apple cells to be left behind with the cellulose scaffold. This is very useful because you can implant mammalian cells into the structure and they do the rest. They grow, they multiply and they spread. If the scaffold is embedded into an animal then it will send in vessels and cells to populate.
The trick then was to try produce human body parts. For this, he recruited his wife’s help because she carves musical instruments out of wood. Maybe, just maybe, she can also carve human ears into an apple. So having made human ear scaffolds, he then implanted the human cells to create ears. What makes this project brilliantly useful is that traditional scaffolds used in this process are prohibitively expensive, whereas the key step in this technique only used water, soap, and apple. To make this science even more accessible, the lab spun off a company, Spiderwort, which sells these kits and made the technique available as open-source.
The opportunity to use fruit and vegetables doesn’t stop there; next up on his list, is the Asparagus. Currently, their lab is looking into developing neurons using the Asparagus cellulose channels as a structure. They are collaborating with neuroscientists and doctors to make this a reality.
Therefore don’t limit play to children, play in your everyday life with everyday objects because that makes you think creatively and unconventionally.