Researchers use living bacteria to develop ink for 3D printing

Zurich – For the first time ever, ETH researchers have developed a 3D printing platform that works using living matter. By using living bacteria, the ink makes it possible to print mini biochemical factories.

According to the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, “dead matter” has been used until now for 3D printing. What’s more, most people only associate bacteria with diseases. But the researchers at ETH Zurich overcame these two obstacles to develop a biocompatible ink that uses bacteria with extremely useful properties.

The bacteria Pseudomonas putida, for example, can break down the toxic chemical phenol, which is produced in the chemical industry. Acetobacter xylinum, on the other hand, secretes high-purity nanocellulose. The 3D-printed “mini-factories” produced from them could be used in filters for use in disastrous oil spills or in medical applications.

The ink was developed by a group of ETH researchers led by Professor André Studart, head of the Laboratory for Complex Materials at ETH Zurich. It is composed of a biocompatible hydrogel that provides structure, and the bacteria as well as the nutrients needed for the bacteria are mixed into the ink.

“As bacteria require very little in the way of resources, we assume they can survive in printed structures for a very long time,” explained Patric Rühs, a member of Studart’s research group.

Although the research on biochemical mini-factories is still in its initial stages, “printing using bacteria-containing hydrogels has enormous potential, as there is such a wide range of useful bacteria out there,” added Rühs.

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