Pelling apple ear

The human body comes with few spare parts, and unlike some other animals, we’re not generally able to regrow a part that has become damaged or lost. We’ve been working on creating functional replacements for centuries (think of George Washington’s apocryphal wooden teeth), but modern science promises to give us lifelike spare parts as needed. Technology could provide a new source of body parts based on an unexpected raw material: apples.

Andrew Pelling is a researcher and a “biohacker” who has a compelling TED talk that describes his work at the Pelling Lab for Biophysical Manipulation using apples to create replacement body parts, such as ears. The clever approach is based on carving an apple into the desired shape, and then using “decelluarization” techniques to remove all the contents of the apple cells. This leaves a scaffolding made of cellulose, without any genetic material. Pelling has demonstrated how this can be colonized using animal cells — including human cells — to create an object that will be readily accepted by a host body since it is grown using the individual’s cells.

The apple scaffolding is inexpensive, especially when compared with available alternatives, and the cell removal process does not require sophisticated materials or processes. The same technique could be used to create everything from blood vessels to hybrid “organs” that can incorporate sensing technologies. Perhaps the simple apple will be the key to the bionic humans of the future.