3D-Printed Minifactories to Print Living Materials with Bacteria-Loaded Inks

3D Printed Minifactories to Print Living Materials with Bacteria Loaded Inks

A group of ETH researchers in Switzerland announced on December 2, 2017, that they have developed a biocompatible ink for 3D printing using living bacteria. Biological materials have potential of breaking down toxic substances or producing high-purity cellulose for biomedical applications.

The new printing material is named as ‘Flink’, which stands for functional living ink. The technique was recently published in the journal Science Advances. A group of ETH researchers led by Professor André Studart, Head of the Laboratory for Complex Materials, Switzerland has introduced a novel 3D printing platform that works using living matter. The researchers developed a bacteria-containing ink that can print mini biochemical factories. Flink is composed of a biocompatible hydrogel that provides structure. The hydrogel is composed of hyaluronic acid, long-chain sugar molecules, and pyrogenic silica. Using hydrogel as a base, the researchers can add bacteria with the desired range of properties and then print three-dimensional structure.

Studart’s group members and first authors Patrick Rühs and Manuel Schaffner used the bacteria Pseudomonas putida and Acetobacter xylinum in their work. The former can break down the toxic chemical phenol, which is produced on a grand scale in the chemical industry, while the latter secretes high-purity nanocellulose. This bacterial cellulose relieves pain and retains moisture due to which it has applications in the treatment of burns.

Scientists can use up to four different inks containing different species of bacteria at different concentrations in order to produce objects exhibiting several properties. However, lifespan of the printed minifactories is not known so far. “As bacteria require very little in the way of resources, we assume they can survive in printed structures for a very long time,” said Rühs. Researchers believe the new ink is completely safe and the bacteria they use are harmless and beneficial.

This technology can be used to study degradation processes or biofilm formation. Bacteria-containing 3D-printed sensor can detect toxins in drinking water and can be used for cleaning disastrous oil spills. Acetobacter species of bacteria takes several days to produce cellulose for biomedical applications. However, the scientists are convinced that they can further optimize and accelerate the processes.

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