The “artificial leaves” were made from a particularly robust algae printed on bacterial cellulose. The algae could pull double duty for a Mars colony, producing oxygen to breathe as well as sugars for energy generation.
Cultivating algae to make such products is much cheaper than sending fuel and oxygen directly to Mars because every pound of material sent into space costs about $10,000.
Marie-Eve Aubin-Tam, a professor involved in the project, also sees applications beyond space. “[T]he printing of living cells is an attractive technology for the fabrication of engineered living materials. [This material] has the unique advantage of being sufficiently mechanically robust for applications in real-life settings.”