Biotechnology: 3D printing living materials with programmable ink
November 24, 2021
A microbial ink, which can be used to print 3D materials with functional and programmable attributes, is reported in a proof-of-concept study published in Nature Communications. The study demonstrates the potential uses of the technology, including sequestering the toxic chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) when it is present in the environment.
Creating a printable ink directly from microbes, without the addition of any other polymers or additives opens up new possibilities for manufacturing in settings where conventional materials may not be available. It also enables the development of materials that can sense and respond to the environment around them. Being able to 3D print these materials could allow for customisation and adaptation to specific applications. Microbial inks, which are composed of living cells, are a potential medium to achieve this, however, they need to combine desirable material properties with cell viability.
Neel Joshi and colleagues present an advanced microbial ink produced from E. coli, which have been genetically engineered to produce nanofibers. These fibres can be concentrated and printed into 3D structures. The authors then combined the ink with other genetically engineered microbes that have been designed to perform specific tasks and found the hydrogel gained functionality. Using the hydrogel, the authors were able to produce a material that secreted the anticancer drug azurin in response to chemical stimulus and were also able to design a material that sequestered the toxic chemical BPA when it is present in the environment.
The findings demonstrate the potential of this technology to print functional materials for biotechnology and biomedical use. The authors conclude that their research may have implications for structure building in space, but further research is needed to explore future customisations.
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