TIME magazine recently published its list for the top 50 innovations of 2009. Making the list at number 29 is Dandelion Rubber, the creation of scientists at the Germany-based Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME).
According to the researchers, rubber trees worldwide are taking a bit hit from a fungus that spreads quickly. Dandelions are weeds whose sap contains latex. While harvesting dandelions to make up for the rubber tree loss is a catchy idea, the reality is that it's not easy because dandelions undergo polymerisation (i.e. goes gummy). The Fraunhofer researchers switched off a key enzyme in the dandelion in order to resolve the problem. Thanks to their innovation, the new and improved dandelion yields a whopping 500% more usable latex compared to its conventional cousin.
Another invention that made the list is the brainchild of Italian scientists at the Istituto di Scienza e Tecnologia dei Materiali Ceramici (ISTEC): using wood to create an artificial bone replacement called 'carbonated hydroxyapatite'.
The sponginess of the wood (rattan, red oak, sipo) is so great that live bones have the potential to grow into the structure faster than with traditional titanium or ceramic implants. The end result is that the bone gets mended more quickly than ever before. While the procedure is not yet ready for human testing, the scientists are testing the artificial bones on sheep.
According to the research team, the bone substitute needs around a week to process and can be produced in any size or shape. Blocks of rattan, red oak and sipo are heated until the only thing that remains is pure carbon (charcoal).
'Our purpose is to convert native wood structures into bioactive, inorganic compounds destined to substitute portions of bone,' the ISTEC's Dr Anna Tampieri explained.
Number 34 on the innovations list is the human-powered vending machine, which targets consumers looking for a fast snack and provides them with healthier food. The Spanish inventor Pep Torres attached a stationary bicycle to a vending machine so that a customer eyeing a vending machine product has to pedal a certain distance to get their food fix.
'We’d like to see it in subway stations and schools,' said Mr Torres, 'that way, people can eat their potato chips and still get in shape.'
First on the list as best invention for 2009 is NASA's Ares Rockets, and rounding out the top five are the Tank-Bred Tuna, the USD 10 Million Lightbulb, the Smart Thermostat, and Controller-Free Gaming.