Scientists use spinach to make artificial limbs

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Scientists are using a novel product to transform the production of various plastic products including prosthetic limbs – spinach.

A team from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University is set to use green chemicals inside spinach leaves to revolutionise the way many plastic products are made.

The chemicals from the leafy foodstuff are able to bring metallic nano-particles already embedded in plastics back to the surface to form a conductive circuit.

This can be used for a range of products including making the latest range of limb prosthetics with improved functionality.

The team hope the state-of-the-art anti-microbial coatings they develop will help lead to cheaper and more reliable ways to improve sanitation in developing countries by creating bacteria-resistant coatings for three dimensional surfaces such as pipes.

They say such coatings eliminate harmful, in some cases potentially fatal, micro-organisms without the need for strong disinfectants or costly materials.

They can also be used in making smaller mobile phones and some medical devices for hospitals.

The project, called Photobioform II, is led by Prof Marc Desmulliez of the university’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, which has been awarded £700,000 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Prof Desmulliez said: “The use of spinach leaves or carrot extracts is a clear example of the importance of green chemistry for sustainable, low-cost and environmentally friendly manufacturing.

“Selective formation of metallic nano-particles in plastics has a wide range of uses including the generation of conductive tracks for electronics interconnections and the fabrication of sensors and actuators.

“This method that could be implemented by any country with minimum amount of equipment, is another example of the power of bio-inspired manufacturing.”

He said the green chemical complexes obtained using extract of spinach leaves provided substantial reduction of light exposure compared to synthetically, non-sustainable chemical agents.