Bacteria may be the key to future 3D-printed bespoke materials

3d printed bacteria graphene 20160824 110043
Want to know what the future of 3D printing might hold? How about the possibility of printing custom materials such as graphene by using 3D-printed bacteria?

That’s exactly what scientists at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands are doing. They’ve developed a new process — thought to be a world first — that enables them to 3D print a range of materials using bacteria.

“For many years, people have been using bacteria to make chemicals, whether that’s antibiotics, or a number of other things like that,” Dr. Anne Meyer, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “Using bacteria to make materials is something that’s new. We’re really starting from scratch to work out what the possibilities are.”

Meyer and her colleagues have so far used bacteria to 3D print materials resembling all-around wonder material graphene, scratch-resistant mother-of-pearl, and even a bacteria-based model of dental plaque — which they claim could be used to test future toothpastes.

“One of the big advantages of using bacteria is that it’s cheap, easy, and environmentally friendly,” Meyer continued. “You literally mix your bacteria with the precursor starting material and, when you come back the next day, it has already made your product. There’s none of the chemical waste that you have with some of the traditional chemical approaches.”

Impressively, the work is being carried out using a regular over-the-counter 3D printer, which Meyer said was an important part of the project. “We didn’t want to make something that would be prohibitively expensive, or require a high level of expertise,” she said. The idea is to develop an easily reproducible process that can then be replicated by other researchers around the world.

In a recent proof-of-concept demonstration, the team combined E. coli with a gel formed from algae. They then 3D-printed the resulting material onto a dish with calcium ions. The gel solidifies when in contact with the calcium, ensuring that the bacteria then stayed in place. As it turns out, it is already possible to print bacteria into very exact lines only 1 millimeter in width.

We guess you only need to be worried when people start talking about using bacteria to 3D print food. That’s the point at which we would get squeamish!

Emerging Tech

How 3D printing has changed the world of prosthetic limbs forever

When he was 13 years old, Christophe Debard had his leg amputated. Here in 2019, Debard's Print My Leg startup helps others to create 3D-printed prostheses. Welcome to a growing revolution!
Emerging Tech

Burgers are just the beginning: Embracing the future of lab-grown everything

You’ve almost certainly heard of the 'farm to fork' movement, but what about 'lab to table'? Welcome to the fast-evolving world of lab-grown meat. Is this the future of food as we know it?
Emerging Tech

Meet the gene-edited bacteria that could make cannabis plants obsolete

Ever wanted to brew cannabis like you brew craft beer? At UC Berkeley, biologists have managed to engineer brewer’s yeast so that it produces the main cannabinoids found in marijuana.

The VR goggles you wear to shoot alien ships is helping Magna design car parts

Canadian automotive supplier Magna has started using virtual reality in its research and development department. The technology helps engineers get a better view of what they're working on, whether it's an interior part or a powertrain.
Emerging Tech

Troubleshooting Earth

It’s no secret that humans are killing the planet. Some say it’s actually so bad that we’re hurtling toward a sixth major extinction event -- one which we ourselves are causing. But can technology help us undo the damage we’ve…
Emerging Tech

Inside the Ocean Cleanup’s ambitious plan to rid the ocean of plastic waste

In 2013, Boyan Slat crowdfunded $2.2 million to fund the Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit organization that builds big, floating trash collectors and sets them out to sea, where they’re designed to autonomously gobble up garbage.
Emerging Tech

Climeworks wants to clean the atmosphere with a fleet of truck-sized vacuums

Using machines that resemble jet engines, Climeworks wants to fight climate change by extracting CO2 from thin air. The gas can then be sold to carbonated drink and agriculture companies, or sequestered underground.
Emerging Tech

Geoengineering is risky and unproven, but soon it might be necessary

Geoengineering is a field dedicated to purposely changing the world's climate using technology. Call it 'playing god' if you must; here's why its proponents believe it absolutely must happen.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Earth Day, indoor container farming, robot submarines

Today on Digital Trends Live, we discuss how technology intersects with Earth Day, a new Tim Cook biography, indoor container farming, robot spy submarines, A.I. death metal, and more.

Google’s Stadia is the future of gaming, and that’s bad news for our planet

Google’s upcoming Stadia cloud gaming service, and its competitors, are ready to change the way gamers play, but in doing so they may kick off a new wave of data center growth – with unfortunate consequences for the environment.
Emerging Tech

Hawaiian botanists’ drone discovers a plant thought to be lost forever

In what may well be a world first, botanists in Hawaii recently used a drone to find a species of plant that scientists believed was extinct. The plant was located on a sheer cliff face nearly 20 years after its last sighting.
Emerging Tech

Alphabet’s Wing drones now have FAA approval to deliver packages in the U.S.

Alphabet Wing has become the first company to receive Air Carrier Certification from the FAA. This means that it can begin commercial deliveries from local businesses to homes in the U.S.
Emerging Tech

A battery-free pacemaker harvests and stores energy from heartbeats

Researchers in China and the United States have developed a new battery-free pacemaker which gathers its required electricity from the energy of heartbeats. Here's why that's so exciting.
Smart Home

The startup behind the world’s first laundry robot has folded

When the Laundroid was first announced almost three years ago, then shown off at last year's CES, it was met with a fair bit of both intrigue and derision. But now Seven Dreamers, the company behind it, says the company is out of money.