This 3D-printable 'living ink' can capture toxins, release anti-cancer drugs
The next logical step to 3D printing inanimate objects is to print living beings, and a team of researchers appears to have done just that. They have developed an ink that can be 3D printed that comprises engineered bacterial cells. The novel compound can be formed into structures that release anti-cancer drugs and capture environmental toxins. Here are more details on this invention.
Why does it matter?
- The newest advancements in 3D printing are shape-changing polymers that must be catalyzed, and now microbial inks that are responsive to changes in their environment.
- The microbial ink is capable of releasing azurin, a known cancer cure. It can also capture the toxin bisphenol A (BPA) used to make plastics and consequently cause cancer and infertility.
The one-of-a-kind living ink is made completely from protein compounds
Avinash Manjula-Basavanna at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleagues have created the first "living ink" of its kind. It is made entirely from proteins produced by genetically modified E.coli cells embedded in a gel with no polymer additives. Manjula-Basavanna remembers, "That moment when it bridged this gap and I was screaming and jumping." His team's findings have been published in Nature Communications.
Scientists concentrated modified E.coli's nanofibers to make gel
The researchers first engineered the E.coli cells to produce curli nanofibers that had two oppositely charged modules attached to them. By growing a mix of these cells, the team produced curli fibers when the nanofibers lined with each other's oppositely charged ends. The bacteria is then filtered away through a nylon membrane to concentrate the crosslinked fibers that produce the 3D printable gel.
Gel exhibited around 30% efficiency capturing BPA toxin
The gel can be taught to release azurin on demand like a living being, in the presence of a chemical called IPTG. The gel modified to catch BPA captured around 30% of the toxin from the liquid around it in 24 hours. The gel's lifetime is being tested but Manjula-Basavanna says the gels remained stable in the lab for a couple of years.
Technology can be leveraged to make self-healing, self-multiplying materials, structures
The researchers believe that their concept demonstrates evidence that such inks could become a self-creating entity. The E.coli can be further modified to generate copies of itself in the gel, allowing the ink to grow as it is stored. The researchers also claim that it could be possible to leverage this technique and build sustainable structures out of renewable materials with self-healing properties.