Bacterial bullseye

3-d printed circles with embedded cellulose-producing bacteria.
3-D printed circles with embedded cellulose-producing bacteria.
Manuel Schaffner and Patrick A. Rühs

A new ink embedded with bacteria can be used to print three-dimensional “living materials” capable of degrading pollutants and producing medically-relevant bacterial cellulose. 

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Thanks to their diverse metabolism, bacteria that are capable of degrading toxins, synthesizing vitamins, forming cellulose and performing photosynthesis can all be loaded in the ink, leading to a range of possible applications. 

Previous approaches to creating similar materials have injected bacteria into the printed object after it was already made. Loading the bacteria directly into the ink allows for better control of the shapes, compositions and properties of the printed object, as well as ensures the even incorporation of bacteria. 

To create the biocompatible hydrogels, Manual Schaffner and colleagues immobilized bacteria in a hydrogel ink that could be released in the form of filaments while providing the environment to keep bacteria cells alive and functional. They demonstrated the functional living ink— dubbed “Flink”— by loading it with two different types of bacteria: Pseudomonas putida, which can degrade toxic phenol, and Acetobacter xylinum, for forming bacterial cellulose, which shows promise as skin replacements and as tissue envelops in organ transplantation. 

The image above shows one of the test patterns Schaffner’s team printed. The research is published in Science Advances

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