July 29, 2021


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Printer Uses Algae to Print Live Structures

Printer Uses Algae to Print Live Structures

Printer Uses Algae to Print Live Structures

There’s a famous scene in the movie version of Frankenstein — but not in the book — where the doctor exclaims: “It’s alive!” We wonder if researchers at TU Delft had the same experience after printing living structures using algae. Of course, they aren’t creating life or even reanimating it. They are simply depositing living cells in artificial structures using a bio-compatible substrate. According to the paper, the living cells or bio ink can build up layers in a 3D printing fashion and the structures are “self-standing.”

There are some advantages, for example that the algae get their energy from sunlight. Of course they also have to eat, so unless you provide some snacks, your print will die off in about 3 days.

The prints are bacterial cellulose with living microalgae placed at millimeter-scale locations. The primary use is to make artificial leaves that can convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and energy in the form of sugars.

We expect this will be at best a niche application, although the paper speculates on using it in a variety of situations. The biggest draw to this method appears to be that the substrate is mechanically robust and allows for photosynthesis. None of this seemed out of reach to a reasonably well-equipped biohacker, and the hardware was a conventional 3D printer with a few do-it -yourself mods.

We’ve seen cheap printers rebuilt into lab gear before. More than once, in fact.