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3D Printing Bacteria to Create Living Material

Posted on December 6th, 2017 by in New Materials & Applications

T-800 Model 101

Publicity Image (crop from original) by TriStar Pictures (fair use) via Wikipedia

Researchers and engineers at ETH Zürich and University College Dublin create “Flink” a functional living ink getting one step closer to creating the living tissue over the metal endoskeleton necessary for the T-800 Model 101 Terminator.

Hollywood and science fiction aside, AAAS reported earlier this week novel research on embedded bacteria in a biocompatible 3D printing ink to create what the researchers have dubbed as “living materials.” Combining the natural diverse metabolism of bacteria with the shape design freedom of additive manufacturing, they’ve demonstrated 3D printing for both bioremediation and biomedical applications. According to the team, their new approach using bacteria-laden hydrogels enables creation of complex 3D living architectures with full localization and concentration control of the bacteria.

Employing a custom-built four-axis 3D printer, the research team deposited a bacteria infused hydrogel of varying thickness onto a substrate representing a human face. Following incubation, inspection confirmed the formation of bacterial cellulose of corresponding varying thickness demonstrating control can be achieved for selective areas such as around the eyes, nose, and mouth. Bacterial cellulose is emerging as a promising technique for skin replacements and for use as tissue envelope in organ transplantation. 3D printing enables the creation of complex shapes necessary to better match areas of interest reducing the risk of skin graft detachment.

As you can see, not all bacteria are bad. There are many other forms of bacteria to us humans, some you likely experience every day. Have a look at the following YouTube video from TED-Ed to learn more and to have something interesting to share with aspiring young researchers of your own:

It’s always fascinating to me when science-fact replaces science-fiction. Will we ever see a day when a living tissue wrapped killing machine comes back in time to retroactively end humanity? It’s highly unlikely, but advancements such as Flink and its application in 3D printing tissue certainly make fantastic science fiction movie plots more believable.

Where do you believe 3D printing will go next in biomedical application? Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.

All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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