MIT researchers made a living ink that responds to its surroundings

Olive Hawkins
Декабря 7, 2017

The researchers also developed a model to predict the communication between cells within a given 3D printed structure, for instance, they programmed some cells to light up only when they receive a certain signal from another cell. This reaction is demonstrated visually as the cells lighting up. The fact that the bacteria could survive when added to a hydrogel, and then later coping with the intense force of being pushed through a small print nozzle, suggests that these cells were definitely the right choice for the first form of viable living ink. Each branch of the tree carried bacterial cells responsive to different types of chemicals.

However the good news is that it appears that we're getting close to wearable sensors that can pick up on things like that, thanks to the efforts of researchers at MIT who have developed "living ink" that reacts to the environment. Since the cells were too weak, they easily ruptured.

The MIT team made a decision to revisit the concept using bacterial cells instead because they are hardier and able to survive relatively harsh conditions. After a screening test, the MIT researchers found that a hydrogel with pluronic acid was the most compatible material, and it also had an ideal consistency for 3D printing.

More details on the research jump over to the MIT website and Advanced Materials using the links below.

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Xuanhe Zhao said in a statement: "We found this new ink formula works very well and can print at a high resolution of about 30 micrometres per feature". "That means each line we print contains only a few cells".

Then, like a tattoo, the finished hydrogel patch was placed on the back of a hand that had been covered in the reactive chemicals. The process took some hours, but the branches started glowing as soon as the bacteria sensed their corresponding chemicals. The receiving bacteria only lit up when they overlapped and receive "input" from the signalling bacteria in the lower layer. Using this technique, scientists might be able to build a "living computer", where layers of cells talk to each other like transistors do in electronics today.

According to one of the researchers Hyunwoo Yuk, "This is very future work, but we expect to be able to print living computational platforms that could be wearable".

For more near-term applications, the researchers are aiming to fabricate customized sensors, in the form of flexible patches and stickers that could be engineered to detect a variety of chemical and molecular compounds. They're also looking into creating drug capsules and surgical implants containing cells engineered to produce compounds such as glucose, which could be released over time.

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