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December 6, 2017 AT 1:00 pm

This 3D-printed ‘living ink’ could someday help with skin replacements

Schaffner6HR 1

From clothing all the way to skin grafts, bacteria may be the 3D printing material of the future!
Via The Verge:

Tomorrow’s replacement skin could be 3D printed from a new ink embedded with living bacteria.

Bacteria are able to do everything from breaking down toxins to synthesizing vitamins. When they move, they create strands of a material called cellulose that is useful for wound patches and other medical applications. Until now, bacterial cellulose could only be grown on a flat surface — and few parts of our body are perfectly flat. In a paper published today in Science Advances, researchers created a special ink that contains these living bacteria. Because it is an ink, it can be used to 3D print in shapes — including a T-shirt, a face, and circles — and not just flat sheets.

Bacterial cellulose is free of debris, holds a lot of water, and has a soothing effect once it’s applied on wounds. Because it’s a natural material, our body is unlikely to reject it, so it has many potential applications for creating skin transplants, biosensors, or tissue envelopes to carry and protect organs before transplanting them.

The tricky part is how the cellulose is made. These harmless bacteria produce strands of cellulose to help propel themselves forward. So, they need to be mobile to create the material, but this movement makes 3D printing difficult, says study co-author Manuel Schaffner, a materials scientist at ETH Zurich. To 3D print something, you need ink that flows a certain way to get it through the printing nozzle, and making ink the right thickness can freeze the bacteria.

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