3D Printing with Living Materials – Can It Be Used in Defense?

  • 3D printing using live microorganisms has become possible.
  • The live organisms used were E-Coli.
  • It can have defense applications, including masks with antibodies and even antibiotics live coating.

The researchers from MIT and Harvard University were able to inject micro organisms into objects using 3D printing technology. The technology will allow the creation of smart packaging but does caution about bacterial contamination.  The study has been published: Hybrid Living Materials: Digital Design and Fabrication of 3D Multimaterial Structures with Programmable Biohybrid Surfaces.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Institute is a land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant university, with an urban campus that extends more than a mile alongside the Charles River.

The researchers changed the ink compound. The base for the 3D printing was using hybrid living materials. Hence, besides traditional components, it containes live microorganisms. Hybrid Living Materials (HLMs) are formed by combining living and non-living components such that the resulting composite takes on the properties of both. HLMs are amongst an emergent class of materials aimed at expanding the ways in which living cells can function to generate new material properties.

DARPA is also working on engineered living materials for the defense sector. The project has been in progress but no announcements have been made thus far.

MIT researchers used two types of pitches: one was permanent, the other temporary, to create the product.  The main part of the mask is created from the first substance, which ensures the integrity and stability of the structure. Some parts are made using a temporary resin. It is usually used for protruding parts of the product and it dissolves after it performs its function.

During the study, researchers also discovered a unique property: those parts of the structure that were made of temporary resin became a kind of absorber and retained the ability to conduct chemical signals that allowed you to control the behavior of living microorganisms. This is very important and could easily have military applications as well.

The modified E. coli bacteria was sprayed together with the final layer consisting of a hydrogel, a three-dimensional (3D) network of hydrophilic polymers that can swell in water and hold a large amount of water while maintaining the structure due to chemical or physical cross-linking of individual polymer chains.

After a few hours, the microorganisms begin to glow with different colors in those parts of the printed object that were made using a temporary resin. Moreover, it allowed E-coli to glow using programmable functions.

Escherichia coli, also known as E. coli, is a Gram-negative, facultative anaerobic, rod-shaped, coliform bacterium of the genus Escherichia that is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms

The study also suggests that It can have wider application use. Within the study it is suggested that creating objects with biological surface allows to have change in temperature and light. The other application, which could be relevant in the battlefield and first line responders is to have masks that will have antibodies and antibiotics in them using genetic profile of a person.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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