3D Printing. . . with Bacteria

The most innovative 3D printing material to date?

As scientists and researchers search for new materials for production and manufacturing, Materials Science has emerged as a very important discipline. The subject involves exploring, discovering and reimagining physical entities, and aims to respond to the need to find environmentally friendly, diverse and sustainable materials. By combining science and advanced technology, a team from the Department of Bionanoscience at TU Delft has come up with a potential solution that combines 3D printing with bacteria.

3D Bacterial Printing
3D printing often goes hand in hand with new materials experiments, but the university has taken an entirely different approach to the ink that enables the printing process by taking inspiration from living organisms. Bacteria can create diverse and sustainable molecules, which is exactly what materials researchers are looking for. By creating a custom bio-ink, bacteria and chemical combinations can be turned into a liquid form suitable for printing. Of course, 3D printers aren’t designed to cope with cells, so the team modified a commercial printer to maximise bacterial health. The printer itself cost a modest $300, which is a far cry from the thousands of dollars spent on other cellular printing methods.

Applications and benefits
3D printing has obvious disruptive advantages in manufacturing and production. The technology has provided a useful tool for creating customised products for entrepreneurs and corporations alike. It’s efficient, cost effective and accessible, producing on demand batches and orders of varying sizes for a range of different applications. Coupled with relatively simple science, 3D bacterial printing could offer a response to the demand for three dimensional products built using clean, reproducible ink. Unlike traditional materials production, 3D bacterial printing doesn’t create toxic by-products and is therefore environmentally friendly. It’s cheaper than other similar methods, too. An interesting property of bacterial structures is that they can alter themselves in response to the surrounding environment. This means that the cells are capable of creating incredible diversity. Possible applications include HealthTech – particularly bioprinting – and in the expanding world of FoodTech and lab grown produce.

The solution currently under development at TU Delft shows how the combination of simple science and innovation can help to solve emerging problems. It’s yet another example of finding inspiration from the natural world and thinking outside of the box to find answers to important questions. The development of 3D bacterial printing also demonstrates the key role that academia can play in fuelling innovative development. Of course, the project is still in its infancy, but has real potential as a solution to the rising need for suitable, sustainable materials creation.

Will 3D bacterial printing offer a solution to the demand for sustainable, diverse materials? Which other industries could benefit from the new printing method? What impact will cheaper cellular printing have on Materials Science? Share your thoughts and opinions.