Living materials, which are made by housing biological cells within a non-living matrix, have gained popularity in recent years as scientists recognize that always the foremost robust materials are those mimic nature.
For the first time, international team of researchers from the University of Rochester and Delft University of Technology in Netherlands used 3D printers and a completely unique bioprinting technique to print algae into living, photosynthetic materials that are tough and resilient. The material has different applications in energy, medical, and fashion sectors. The research is published in journal Advanced Functional Materials.
“Three-dimensional printing may be a powerful technology for fabrication of living functional materials that have an enormous potential in wide selection of environmental and human-based applications.” says Srikkanth Balasubramanian, a postdoctoral research associate at Delft and therefore the first author of the paper. “We provide the first example of an engineered photosynthetic material that’s physically robust enough to be deployed in real-life applications.”
How to build new materials: Living and nonliving components
To create the photosynthetic materials, the researchers began with a non-living bacterial cellulose—organic compound that’s produced and excreted by bacteria. Bacterial cellulose has many unique mechanical properties, including its flexibility, toughness, strength, and skill to retain its shape, even when twisted, crushed, or otherwise physically distorted.
The bacterial cellulose is just like the paper in printer, while living microalgae acts as ink. The researchers used a 3D printer to deposit living algae onto the bacterial cellulose.
The combination of living (microalgae) and nonliving (bacterial cellulose) components resulted in unique material that has the photosynthetic quality of the algae and therefore the robustness of the bacterial cellulose; the material is hard and resilient while also eco-friendly, biodegradable, and simple and scalable to produce. The plant-like nature of material means it can use photosynthesis to “feed” itself over periods of the many weeks, and it’s also ready to be regenerated—a small sample of the material are often grown on-site to form more materials.
Artificial leaves, photosynthetic skins, and bio-garments
The unique characteristics of the material make it a ideal candidate for different of applications, including new products like artificial leaves, photosynthetic skins, or photosynthetic bio-garments.
Artificial leaves are materials that mimic actual leaves therein they use sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide—a major driver of climate change—into oxygen and energy, very similar to leaves during photosynthesis. The leaves store energy in chemical form as sugars, which may then be converted into fuels. Artificial leaves therefore offer way to produce sustainable energy in places where plants don’t grow well, including space colonies. the artificial leaves produced by the researchers at Delft and Rochester are additionally made up of eco-friendly materials, in contrast to most artificial leaf technologies currently in production, which are produced using toxic chemical methods.
“For artificial leaves, our materials are like taking the ‘best parts’ of plants—the leaves—which can create sustainable energy, without having to use resources to produce parts of plants—the stems and therefore the roots—that need resources but don’t produce energy,” says Anne S. Meyer, an professor of biology at Rochester. “We are making a cloth that’s only focused on the sustainable production of energy.”
Another application of the material would be photosynthetic skins, which might be used for skin grafts, Meyer says. “The oxygen generated would help to kick-start healing of the damaged area, or it’d be ready to perform light-activated wound healing.”
Besides offering sustainable energy and medical treatments, the materials could also change the fashion sector. Bio-garments made up of algae would address a number of the negative environmental effects of the present textile industry therein they might be high-quality fabrics that might be sustainability produced and completely biodegradable. they might also work to purify the air by removing CO2 through photosynthesis and wouldn’t got to be washed as often as conventional garments, reducing water usage.
“Our living materials are promising because they will survive for several days with no water or nutrients access, and therefore the material itself are often used as a seed to grow new living materials,” says Marie-Eve Aubin-Tam, an professor of bionanoscience at Delft. “This opens the door to applications in remote areas, even in space, where the matrial are often seeded on site.”
The findings were reported in University of Rochester