Innovative New Process Uses Bacteria to 3D Print Materials

Wonder material: graphene Science Picture Co/Getty

Custom 3D printed materials like graphene could soon start being created using printed bacteria thanks to a team of scientists at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.  This new process is thought to be the world first and exciting times are set to come because of it. “For many years, people have been using bacteria to make chemicals, whether that’s antibiotics or some other things like that.  Using bacteria to make materials is something that’s new. We’re starting from scratch to work out what the possibilities are,” said Dr. Anne Meyer, a researcher on the project.

During her research, Meyer and her colleagues were successful in using bacteria to 3D print materials that resembled graphene, scratch-resistant mother-of-pearl, and bacteria based dental plaque which shows promise in being used to test toothpaste in the future.  “One of the big advantages of using bacteria is that it’s cheap, easy, and environmentally friendly.  You mix your bacteria with the precursor starting material and, when you come back the next day, it has already made your product.  There’s none of the chemical waste you have with some of the traditional chemical approaches,” advises Meyer.

Currently, the team is using an over-the-counter 3D printer to carry out their research to ensure it was easy to use and inexpensive.  Also, the idea is to make it easily reproducible for other researchers across the globe to replicate it.  In one of their recent trials the team formed algae by mixing E. coli with a gel then 3D printed the concoction onto a dish laden with calcium ions.  As soon as the gel comes into contact with the calcium, it solidifies trapping the bacteria in place.  And voila – that’s all there is to it!

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