Biology Strange

Scientists Use Spinach Leaves to Make Heart Tissue

A recent breakthrough uses modified spinach leaves to feed and grow human heart cells. Dispite some headlines, they aren’t combining plant and human DNA or turning spinach cells into human heart cells.


Spinach has long been understood to be good for your heart. But researchers have demonstrated that some day spinach could actually be your heart. Specifically, it could be used to repair damaged tissue by giving human heart tissue a plant-infused vascular system.
Scientists have previously fabricated human tissue with 3D printing, but the tiny blood vessels have proven to be a more difficult prospect for duplication. A team of researchers from several American universities has gone back to nature to solve that problem and their results are extremely encouraging.
Spinach leaves have fine veins that transport water and nutrients to the plant’s cells. The process that’s outlined in a new paper published in Biomaterials shows that the plant cells can be removed, leaving behind only the cellulose structure that keeps those cells in place.
The authors of the study write:
Cellulose, which is the most abundant component of plant cell walls, is a well-studied biomaterial for a variety of clinical applications. Cellulose is biocompatible and has been shown to promote wound healing. Furthermore, cellulosic tissue engineering scaffolds derived from decellularized apple slices have shown the ability for mammalian cell attachment and proliferation and were found to be biocompatible when implanted subcutaneously in vivo.
From there, they were able to seed live human cells onto the spinach scaffolding. Once the human tissue had grown around the network of veins, they were able to show that blood cells could flow through the system by pumping fluids and microbeads into it.
For patients with damage to their cardiac muscle tissue, this could be a game changer.

New heart matter could be generated by using the altered plant veins as replacement blood vessels to deliver oxygen to the tissue.

We’re not nearly to the point that this could be implemented in surgery but the authors of the paper believe that it’s a viable first step towards “a new branch of science that investigates the mimicry between kingdoms, e.g. between plant and animal.”

I, for one, welcome a future in which I become part-plant, part-human.


There are hybrid experiments going on, for example, creating animals that contain cells from different species.

America’s top health agency, some U.S. research centers are moving ahead with attempts to grow human tissue inside pigs and sheep with the goal of creating hearts, livers, or other organs needed for transplants.

… human-animal mixtures are being created by injecting human stem cells into days-old animal embryos, then gestating these in female livestock. … chimeras could provide a new supply of organs for needy patients and also lead to basic discoveries

… The worry is that the animals might turn out to be a little too human for comfort, say ending up with human reproductive cells, patches of people hair, or just higher intelligence. …

Hiromitsu Nakauchi, a stem-cell biologist at Stanford University, began trying to make human-sheep chimeras this year. He says that so far the contribution by human cells to the animals’ bodies appears to be relatively small. “If the extent of human cells is 0.5 percent, it’s very unlikely to get thinking pigs or standing sheep,” he says. “But if it’s large, like 40 percent, then we’d have to do something about that.”


This is not the same as mixing human DNA with DNA from other organisms, but there have reportedly been many different secretly produced hybrids made with human and other animal DNA.

… Figures seen by the Daily Mail show that 155 ‘admixed’ embryos, containing both human and animal genetic material, have been created since the introduction of the 2008 Human Fertilisation Embryology Act.

This legalised the creation of a variety of hybrids, including an animal egg fertilised by a human sperm; ‘cybrids’, in which a human nucleus is implanted into an animal cell; and ‘chimeras’, in which human cells are mixed with animal embryos.


This is an irresponsible statement for a newspaper to make without providing proof. The above is misleading. For one, chimeras are not hybrids.

Chimeras are not hybrids, which form from the fusion of gametes from two species that form a single zygote with a combined genetic makeup. Nor are they Hybridomas which, as with hybrids, result from fusion of two species’ cells into a single cell and artificial propagation of this cell in the laboratory. Essentially, in a chimera, each cell is from either of the parent species, whereas in a hybrid and hybridoma, each cell is derived from both parent species.


Likewise, the claim of any “animal egg fertilised by a human sperm” is dubious.  That won’t work, for one, because the number of chromosomes is different in different animals. While it seems there are other animals besides humans with 23 pairs of chromosomes, like the Sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) and Reeves muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi), the sizes of each chromosome will be different and they won’t combine naturally. Here is the human karyotype.

Human karyotype

The different colored bands in chromosomes, achieved by staining methods in a laboratory, show organization within the chromosomes.

Techniques used to reveal chromosome bands enhance an inherent pattern of chromosome organization. A chromo-some band is a manifestation of a chromatin domain withfunctional and structural characteristics that are homo-geneous and distinctive over a long enough stretch to beseen down the microscope. G- and R-banding reflect differences in chromatin structure and base composition between different regions of the genome.

Link (PDF)

For the DNA from two entire animals of any kind to combine naturally, the chromosomes containing their DNA must very be similar so the regions pair up and split during cell division. The variation in chromosomes between species acts as a complicated genetic combination lock.

The labs that do mix human cells or DNA with other species by some means are supposedly all following the law and destroying the hybrids after 14 days.

The ear mouse, by the way, was not an example of genetic engineering. What looked like a human ear growing on a mouse was a 3-D printed ear filled with cow cells then implanted on the mouse.

Poor mouse. It seems better to use spinach leaves if that could be worked out.

Cross species hybridization seems freaky enough, but what about cross kingdom hybrids, like humans and plants, or humans and fungi? Is that possible? Is it possible to have Photosynthetic people, for a little extra energy on sunny days?

The strange truth is, the DNA in humans is made of the same stuff as the DNA in plants. This commonality, such diverse life forms being able to read eacother’s deoxyribonucleic acid sequences, is one of the proofs of evolution.

… at the chemical level – the cells of all plants and all animals contain DNA in the same shape – the famous “double helix” that looks like a twisted ladder. What’s more, all DNA molecules – in both plants and animals – are made from the same four chemical building blocks – called nucleotides.


Along with our understanding of rates of gene mutations and differences between lifeforms, common DNA sequences to all life show a common ancestor for all plants, animals, bacteria and fungi on our planet.
As an example, the Cytochrome C protein molecule, created by both animal and by plant DNA, works the same way in plants and animals. It plays a role in cell death. The protein sequences of cytochrome c in humans is identical to that of chimpanzees (our closest genetic relatives), but as you get further away genetically, there are more and more differences.

In more than thirty species, 34 of the 104 amino acids are conserved; identical at that position.


DNA stores instructions to make proteins. Just four different nucleotide molecules make up life’s genetic code. One gene, which may be from 76 to 80,781 base pairs of nucleotides, codes one protein. Except it’s really more complicated than that.

Even the subsequent reformulation of the “one gene–one polypeptide” hypothesis is now considered too simple to describe the relationship between genes and proteins.


You can’t just plug the DNA for photosynthesis into mouse DNA and have it work. There are many reasons, but in a more advanced future we might work out the problems, allowing individuals freedom of genetic expression.

With what fungus, plant or animal would you like to be hybridized? An immortal jellyfish? A lion? What do you want, gorilla hands?  Eagle wings? A rhino horn?

If we survive climate change, our species could look quite different in 500 years.

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