3D-printer creates “living” materials from bacterial ink

Progress on three-dimensional printers is continuous and in a few years there will be almost nothing that can not be produced by such a device. Two new innovations come to confirm this.

Researchers at the University of Zurich presented a 3-D printer that works with live, non-inherent materials such as plastic or metal, using ink containing bacteria to produce sophisticated functional “living” materials . On the other side of the Atlantic, researchers at US MIT University have created a machine that has ten times the speed of 3D printing than anyone else in the market.

The Swiss printer, presented in the journal Science Advances, was created by researchers headed by Professor Andre Shuntard, Director of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Laboratory of Complex Materials (ETI). “Ink” containing bacteria allows printing microscopic biochemical “factories”, each with different properties, depending on what kind of bacteria are used each time.

It is possible to use at the same time up to four different inks, containing different bacteria, respectively, so as to produce objects with a variety of properties. Each ink is a mixture consisting of a biocompatible hydrogel (hyaluronic acid), sugar molecule chains, silica and bacteria. The ink has a toothpaste-like texture and was called “Flink” (Functional living ink) and can print any shape.

For the time being, it remains unclear how long the bacteria can live inside the printed articles, but the researchers assume they can leave for a long time, because it is oligarchic. They also emphasized that the bacteria used are harmless and the living ink absolutely safe. Such bacterial inks may in the future find various medical, biotechnological and other practical applications, e.g. to erect skin grafts, to print sensors containing bacteria and thus to be able to detect toxins in water. They can also be used to develop bio-filters to clean up oil spills and other sources of pollution.

Two technical barriers to be overcome before are to increase the current slow printing rate and make bio-printing possible on a massive scale.