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SCIENCE Bacteria to be used as 'living ink' on humans and may be capable of detecting cancer early

Published 11 DEC 2017 11:23AM

Words by Josh Hummerston




3D printing is a fairly new development. It was only as recent as 1986 that this method of manufacturing was introduced into the commercial sphere. Over the last few decades, however, 3D printing has developed by leaps and bounds.

Now, over 30 years since its inception, scientists have introduced a potentially game-changing element into the 3D printing process.

3D printers are now capable of utilising a living ink-like substance to make its products capable of interacting with their immediate environment. This organic substance is in fact, bacteria. The bacteria more formally known as Pseudomonas Putida is an exceptionally ecologically minded organism that feeds off chemicals that are harmful to both humans and the natural environment.

In one recent experiment conducted by Manuel Schaffner and his colleagues at ETH Zurich, these particular bacteria were observed to completely decontaminate a water source.



In the experiment, scientists covered a grid in Pseudomonas Putida and placed it in contaminated water. Once the grid was exposed to the hazardous chemical phenol (which was present in the water) the bacteria purified the liquid in only a matter of days.

Naturally, this has led many to postulate as to the many exciting ecological benefits that these bacteria can provide. Items adorned with Pseudomonas Putida would have the potential to clean up oil spills and stabilise other artificial fallouts. An added benefit of using Pseudomonas Putida in such a controlled environment would be its convenient potential for redeployment.

Cells placed within the confines of a specially designed 3-D grid would be able to be dipped in and out of water and reused on numerous occasions. Anne Meyer, a biologist at Delft University outlined the benefits of reusing the bacteria, stating:

“This result has big implications for the application of 3-D printing [to] clean up toxic chemicals”



Pseudomonas Putida is comprised of a unique polymer called hydrogel. Through an intuitive combination of the bacteria and other nutrients, the bacteria is able to continuously grow and replenish itself. After a prolonged period of time, the bacteria will use its built-in sustenance to regenerate, allowing itself to be used again and again.

The living ink is also a porous substance, meaning that exposing 3D structures to even more of the bacteria will allow the object to reabsorb the substance. According to Science Advances Magazine, the bacteria will also be able to harvest and repurpose energy through the process of photosynthesis, furthering its ameliorative implications.

This, however, is not the first time that bacteria has been in the headlines of late. It recently emerged that researchers at MIT had managed to genetically engineer bacteria so that it was able to be worn as a living tattoo. Their eyes set on the not too distant horizon, these scientists envision these tattoos acting as living computers, reliant on intricate and complex internal structures. Speaking of the recent research, Hyunwoo Yuk a graduate at MIT University stated:

"This is very future work, but we expect to be able to print living computational platforms that could be wearable"



Currently, these wearable tattoos are able to respond to various environment based stimuli, including changes in temperature and PH alignment. Once the unit detects change, it subsequently alerts the wearer, removing them from any potential harm or danger.

Whilst a large proportion of bacteria are definitively harmful, some of it is useful by its very nature. Some strains of bacteria even constitute a part of many people’s everyday diets.

Bacteria used in yoghurts are often referred to as probiotics. Probiotics may also be found in other dairy produce such as cheese and can contribute to overall good health. This ‘good bacteria’ helps to ward off harmful bacteria and aids the human digestive system, keeping everything reliable and regular.

Current scientific studies also indicate that bacteria have the potential to recognise cancer and other diseases whilst in their formative stages. According to the Pharmaceutical Journal, researchers have been able to genetically modify the bacteria, Escherichia coli to emit a glowing light when in the presence of a tumour or glucose. This helps medical professionals to identify pathological abnormalities in their patients much earlier and help to reduce the overall mortality rate.

With over 10,000 varieties of ‘benevolent’ types of bacteria present within our body at any given time, and an estimated 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 species of bacteria in the world, the potential for human and ecological betterment is truly astounding.

MIT engineers create 'living tattoo' using ink made from live bacteria

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