The problem with using natural foliage on our interstellar explorations is that plants may not flourish in zero gravity as much as we'd need them to. But since they're a better way to produce oxygen than simply trying to carry countless tanks full of O2, Melchiorri wanted to engineer a better alternative that would easilyy survive the rigours of space travel.
What he ended up creating still functions exactly like the leaves on a plant do, but in improved packaging, in a manner of speaking. The artificial leaves feature chloroplasts extracted from actual plant cells that are suspended in a material made from silk protein. So when given access to light and water they still produce oxygen, but they're better suited to surviving off our planet.
But that's not to say the leaves won't be just as useful here on Earth. They can be employed as natural air filters in the ventilation systems of large buildings, producing extra oxygen that can be pumped indoors. Or if you're camping, they could be the most advanced emergency toilet paper you'll ever use. [Dezeen via Newlaunches]