3D Printing: Constructing Custom Biochemical Factories

Source: The Engineer

It’s difficult to ignore the immense shift expressed by the additive technology (3D printing). Unlike previously printed objects that had no iota of life in them, scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) are using specialized sort of “ink” to print living cell.

The end results of the print out is a functional live bacteria mini-factory with an expansive potential of applications.

Source: Flink

Bacteria-laced gel 3D print out

The study headed by Professor André Studart at (ETH Zurich) have come up with a bacterial laced gel that can be used to print functional bacterial materials. Depending on the type of bacteria incorporated in the ink, the scientists are of the opinion that various functional material can be produced.  The current study shows that the immediate application of the 3D printing of bacteria rests in the field of biomedicine and biochemistry.

The application of the 3D printing of bacteria is focused on the beneficial microbes. Not the kind of bacteria cells that are pathogenic. Yes, we have beneficial bacteria.  A case in point is the lactic acid producing microbe. Commonly referred to as probiotics found in fermented food.

The research by the team of ETH Zurich formulated the bacterial laced gel and christened it “Flink”. An acronym for functional living ink. Two functional beneficial bacteria that have so far been demonstrated to be useful in the 3D bacteria printing process. Pseudomonas putida and Acetobacter xylinum.

Far-Out Applications of the 3D printing Flink

By precisely altering the constituent of the Flink printing gel, the forward-looking Swiss scientist anticipates the building of various functional materials. Some of which may soon be used in the treatment of burns and scalds.

Acetobacter xylinum is a type of bacteria that secrete nano-cellulose which can be enhanced to offer relief occasioned by burns. Its biochemical properties enable the cellulose to retain moisture and suppress pain hence its application in the treatment of burns.

On the other hand, Pseudomonas putida exhibits biochemical remediation properties. That is, it has the ability to break toxic compounds into harmless products. A further interrogation of the research identifies that this strain of bacteria can perform a myriad of tasks such as studying of bacteria in biofilms and cleaning oil spills.

Making of the Flink

The functional living ink is constituted using biocompatible hydrogel that forms the printing base scaffold. A mixture of sugars and specific kinds of acids provide act as the source of energy to power the inoculated mixture of chemical-hungry microbes in the gel.

The practical advantage of 3D printing over the culturing microbes in Petri dishes in the laboratory are generally two. Locked microbes in 3D lattices enable the mini-factories microbes to be translocated from one point of use to another without risk of contamination. A case in point is in water purification process.

The other advantage that the 3D bacteria printing offers is the ability to customize the lattice shapes that would offer a perfect match to the body contours and hence offer a more suitable wound dressing gauzes.

Grey areas that need polishing

The 3D bacteria printing remains a work in progress before it becomes commercially viable. Top of the work in progress agenda as reported by the Swiss scientist includes speed and scalability. Once the aforementioned pitfalls are addressed Flink printing technology would not only offer hope in the medical realm but also in chemical bio-engineering process.

The desirable hydrogel flow properties are also key to ensuring a successful bacteria 3D printing process. The viscosity and the continuity of the gel that the scientist can liken to toothpaste and Nivea cream respectively must be achieved before you think of the printing process. Failure to adhere to the required hydrogel property would affect the free mobility of the microbes in the printed lattices.

The brains behind Flink

The research study of 3D printing of bacteria into functional complex material was spearheaded by Professor André R. Studart. The works have been published in the Journal of Science Advances with its co-authors being Manuel Schaffner, Patrick Rühs, Fergal Coulter and Samuel Kilcher.