3D printer produces “live” materials with bacteria ink
Progress in 3D printers is continuous and in a few years there will probably be almost nothing that can be produced by such a device. Two new innovations are coming to prove it.
In Europe researchers at the University of Zurich have presented a 3-D printer that works with living, non-lifeless materials such as plastic or metal, using bacteria-containing ink to produce complex functional “living” materials. Across the Atlantic, researchers at the US MIT University have created a machine that has 10 times faster 3D printing speed than anyone else on the market.
The Swiss printer, presented in the journal Science Advances, was developed by researchers led by Professor Andre Stundart, director of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology’s (ANT) Complex Materials Laboratory. Bacteria-containing “ink” allows the printing of tiny biochemical “factories”, each with different properties, depending on what kind of bacteria are used each time.
Up to four different inks, containing different bacteria respectively, can be used simultaneously to produce articles with a variety of properties. Each ink is a mixture consisting of a biocompatible hydrogel (of hyaluronic acid), chains of sugar molecules, silica and bacteria. The ink has a texture reminiscent of toothpaste and was christened “Flink” (Functional living ink), that is, “functional live ink” and can print any shape.
At present, it remains unclear how long the bacteria can live in the printed articles, but researchers assume they can do so for a long time because they are scarce. 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 create elastic skin grafts, to print bacteria-containing sensors and thus be able to detect toxins in the water. They can also be used to develop bio-filters that will clean oil spills and other sources of pollution.
Two technical hurdles to overcome are to increase the current slow printing rate and to enable bio-printing on a mass scale.
On average, a commercial 3-D printer prints objects at a speed of about 20 cubic centimeters per hour. These common printers take about an hour to produce a few Lego-type bricks.
The new American printer does not take more than ten minutes to do the same job, thanks to its sophisticated print head. It has a built-in laser that heats and melts the material, allowing it to flow faster through the printer nozzles.
Researchers, led by Associate Professor Anastasios John Hart of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Department of Mechanical Engineering, who published the relevant issue in Additive Manufacturing magazine, showed a few minutes to each new publisher’s possibilities. glasses frame, a conical sprocket and a miniature replica of the MIT dome.