Science

Plant-Powered Futures

5 Hot Topics in Plant-Based Research

As we look into an unsure future, scientists seek out guidance from the plant world to create better, sustainable solutions to modern problems. As the number of labs engaging in sustainable biomedical and biomaterials research, double, we see five areas where botany is leading the way in discovery.

1. Terpenes and Trichomes

The popularity of essential oils in recent years revolves around a chemistry particular to fragrant plants and herbs. Terpenes are organic compounds that are responsible for the odors, and flavors of essential oils. In the case of sages, for example, two different types of leaf outgrowths, called trichomes, contain a plethora of terpene compounds that give it its distinct taste and smell. These oils are often used to flavor natural products and add an aromatherapeutic smell to others. Some essential oils, such as clove, are still used today in modern dentistry and others are being researched for their anti-microbial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, one of our favorite products, Sympath, contains bark essential oils, noted for their pain and inflammation relieving properties. There are thousands of these novel compounds available from plants, which creates a vast field of biomedical research that has room for everyone.

2. Waxes & Fats

Many of the same, very pungent plants, also contain a good amount of oils, fats, and waxes. In this modern ecological climate, these materials can be the answer to eliminating petroleum-derived plastics from all markets. The relative availability of these compounds is very high in plants like hemp, which is also very easy to grow at density. Hemp plastics have been showcased through products like Hempcrete, a concrete substitute made entirely of hemp fiber and waxes. Which leads to our next hot topic, fiber, and materials made from plants!

3. Fiber & Materials

This one is really a return to the past, as most rope and clothing fibers were always made with natural materials from plants such as cotton, hem p and bamboo. Recently, many have also returned to these forms of materials for a more sustainable future. Bamboo has received tons of attention, due to its ability, much like hemp to grow extremely dense with little to no carer, or nutrients. Additionally, flax and other plant fibers are, more and more, becoming centered in material research for their strength and resilience.

4. Agriculture & Horticulture

Food is an important aspect of living in a society, only second to [potable water. For that reason, agriculture is always trying to create more for less when it comes to food production. One of the most popular fields, in fact for many years now, have been vegan-centered agriculture, centered around the production of high protein plants such as soy. Due to the environmental damage and high investment in growing soy, scientists constantly look to other sources of vegan protein. Additionally, as we grow as a global population, high-density forms of agriculture such as aeroponics and hydroponics are extremely popular fields of study. If you are a meat-eater or pescatarian, you may be interested in aquaponics, whereby a large fish or shellfish aquarium is used to fertilize your hydroponic vegetables via a cyclic system; This system grows both animal and vegetable protein simultaneously and a can feed a family of four with as little as 100 square feet of garden/workspace.

5. Vegan Diet & Social Changes

Vegans and vegetarians have grown exponentially in the last decade, growing 94.4% between 2011-2016. Today, scientists in the industry have opened entirely new avenues of food science research, as stated before, searching for elements of diet in the plant kingdom. Society has moved away from meat-based meals with more and more Americans reporting replacing at least one meal per week with a completely plant-based menu. With the rise in vegan and vegetarian diets, there comes a higher demand for meat replacements which are both sustainable and healthy. Jackfruit, cashew cheeses and other alternatives are constantly being honed into artificial beef and chicken, Additionally, grain proteins and other alternatives are always under research for new textures and flavors for meatless foods.

Overall- the world is changing quickly but in some ways, it is returning to the past where humans engaged with the planet in a more sustainable way. Ecological and botanical laboratories around the world are looking to the plant kingdom to broaden the areas where we can be plant reliable rather than relying on petroleum-based plastics and synthetic oils. For this reason, scientists are optimistic about a future, plant-centered paradigm.

Hopkins Medicine graduate and lifetime human rights activist. Dr. Cross has a multilateral mind which balances scientific inquiry with artistic expression.

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