University of Ottawa Lab Makes Ears Out of Apples

Andrew Pelling discusses his ideas about play and recycling. In his UOttawa lab he grows ears out of apples, and spines out of asparagus.

Andrew Pelling’s research lab at the University of Ottawa is founded on the concept of play. The lab wasn’t founded to solve a specific problem. Instead he tries to foster an environment where people can ‘come and ask fascinating questions and find answers.’

In his TED Talk This scientist makes ears out of apples, Pelling discusses the things he finds in the garbage, and how he hopes that using cellulose will make way for medical breakthroughs. Taking something together, rearranging its components, and then turning it into another object is the central idea of Pelling’s hacking. When inspiration struck he decided to find a way to follow the same process using organic tissue.

In the lab Andrew and his team took an apple, removed the apple cells and DNA, and implanted human cells in the cellulosic scaffolding. After bringing his wife in to carve ear shapes out of apples, Pelling took the samples to the lab and grew cells into the apple ears.

Pelling cautions that growing ears is not difficult and not happening in the near future. Several teams have been working on human tissue growth for decades. Commercial animal structures to build new organs onto are expensive and prohibitive, because cadavers or animals are needed as the source material. He stresses that his experiments were relatively easy, because the source material was not high stakes and the apples could be bought extremely cheap.

Andrew Pelling is an energetic compelling speaker and the optimism and sense of wonder in this talk are infectious. There are great moonshot level ideas here along with fascinating insight into the product design and idea generation processes. Building everything around the concepts of play and recycling garbage work in Pelling’s applications but might be problematic in a more constrictive corporate framework. The focus of using organic material to hack body parts is great, and only a small part of what Pelling and his team do at the University of Ottawa