Living materials, which are made by harboring biological cells in a non-living matrix, have grown in popularity in recent years, as scientists recognize that often the most robust materials are those that mimic nature.
For the first time, an international team of researchers from the University of Rochester and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands used 3D printers and a novel bioprinting technique to print algae in photosynthetic materials alive, resistant and resistant. The material has a variety of applications in the energy, medical and fashion industries. The research is published in the journal Advanced functional materials.
“Three-dimensional printing is a powerful technology for manufacturing living functional materials that have enormous potential in a wide range of environmental and human applications.” says Srikkanth Balasubramanian, associate postdoctoral researcher at Delft and first author of the article. “We provide the first example of a designed photosynthetic material that is physically robust enough to be deployed in real-world applications.”
HOW TO BUILD NEW MATERIALS: LIVE AND NON-LIVE COMPONENTS
To create the photosynthetic materials, the researchers started with a non-living bacterial cellulose – an organic compound produced and excreted by bacteria. Bacterial cellulose has many unique mechanical properties, including its flexibility, toughness, strength, and the ability to hold its shape, even when twisted, crushed, or physically deformed.
Bacterial cellulose is like paper in a printer, while living microalgae act like ink. The researchers used a 3D printer to deposit living algae on the bacterial cellulose.
The combination of living (microalgae) and non-living (bacterial cellulose) components has resulted in a unique material that has the photosynthetic quality of algae and the robustness of bacterial cellulose; the material is strong and resilient while being ecological, biodegradable and simple and scalable to produce. The plant nature of the material means that it can use photosynthesis to “feed” itself over periods of several weeks, and it can also be regenerated – a small sample of the material can be grown in place to make more materials.
ARTIFICIAL LEAVES, PHOTOSYNTHETIC SKINS AND BIO-CLOTHING
The unique characteristics of the material make it an ideal candidate for a variety of applications, including new products such as artificial leaves, photosynthetic skins or photosynthetic biological clothing.
Artificial leaves are materials that mimic real leaves in that they use sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide – a major contributor to climate change – into oxygen and energy, just like leaves. during photosynthesis. The leaves store energy in chemical form in the form of sugars, which can then be converted into fuel. Artificial leaves therefore offer a way to generate sustainable energy in places where plants do not grow well, including space colonies. The artificial leaves produced by the Delft and Rochester researchers are additionally made from environmentally friendly materials, unlike most of the 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 needing to use resources to produce parts of plants – the stems and roots – that need but do not produce energy, “says Anne S. Meyer, associate professor of biology at Rochester.” We make a material that focuses only on the sustainable production of energy. “
Another application of the material would be photosynthetic skins, which could be used for skin grafts, Meyer says. “The oxygen generated would help restart healing in the damaged area, or it might be able to achieve light-activated wound healing.”
Besides offering sustainable energy and medical treatments, the materials could also change the fashion industry. Organic clothing made from seaweed would respond to some of the negative environmental effects of today’s textile industry in that it would be high quality fabrics that are produced sustainably and fully biodegradable. They would also work to purify the air by removing carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and would not need to be washed as often as conventional clothes, which would reduce water consumption.
“Our living materials are promising because they can survive for several days without access to water or nutrients, and the material itself can be used as a seed to grow new living materials”, explains Marie-Eve Aubin-Tam, associate professor of bionanoscience at Delft. “This opens the door to applications in remote areas, even in space, where the material can be seeded on site.”