Nov.15, 2014

While tinkerers create the "maker movement", biohackers have also started to organise themselves and use new technologies to 3D print objects.

This week at the Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire being held at the London College of Communication, Ilya Levantis from the London Biohackspace showed off JuicyPrint, a 3D printer that is fed with fruit juice to print on demand 3D structures of bacterial cellulose, a strong and exceptionally versatile biopolymer.

JuicyPrint relies on a strain of the extra-cellular cellulose producing bacteria, Gluconacetobacter hansenii. G. hansenii (sometimes referred to as Acetobacter) is normally found growing in vinegar and can use lots of different liquids, such as fruit juice and beer brewing waste, as a food source.

Their inspiration is from resin SLA 3D printers. The engineered strain created by London Biohackspace is light sensitive, and grows on easily obtainable fruit juice. Their project uses Cph8 to insert a light dependent transcription regulation pathway into G.hansenii to control the transcription of dgc1, a gene necessary for the production of extracellular cellulose in G. Hansenii.

"We are planning to insert genes that will let us switch on or switch off the cellulose production of the bacteria using light." writes London Biohackspace on their website. "Naturally occurring G. hansenii will produce a cellulose 'pancake' along the surface of the liquid nutrients they are grown in. But when a pattern of light is shined on the surface of a liquid culture of our engineered strain, only the bacteria in the dark patches will make cellulose so we can make the cellulose pancake any shape we want."

"We can then push the patterned layer of cellulose below the surface and project a new pattern of light onto the culture. If we repeat this process a three dimensional structure will be built up out of the numerous patterned layers."

But why bacterial cellulose?

Bacterial cellulose is a biopolymer produced from this types of bacteria. It is very similar to the fibre found in plants, but it is much purer and is made of randomly criss-crossed fibres compared with the regular 'grain' of plant cellulose. Bacterial cellulose is also physically strong and biocompatible. That means it can be used in all sorts of applications, such as paper product, electronics and biomedical devices.

Recently, flat sheets of bacterial cellulose are already used in some forms of skin graft therapy, and in the future it will be possible to create effective tissue products for both wound care and the regeneration of demand or diseased organs. 3D printing bacterial cellulose will allow the simple creation of scaffolds which include a vascular structure, a vital part of tissue scaffold creation.

The never-dried bacterial cellulose membrane is being removed from a culture. It is a nonpyrogenic and fully biocompatible biomaterial with high mechanical strength.

According to Sherif MAS Keshk, Assoicate Professor at King Khaild University in Saudi Arabia, the cellulose produced by bacteria could also be used for artificial blood vessels as it carries a lower risk of blood clots than the synthetic materials currently used for bypass operations.

In addition, microbial cellulose could also be used as a binder in papers, and 'because it consists of extremely small clusters of cellulose microfibrils, this property greatly adds to strength and durability of pulp when integrated into paper.'

And in food industry, BC has been applied as a functional food additive as a thickener and disperser, as research shows that he bacterial cellulose has a much higher emulsifying effect.

Levantis says that they have some paperwork that still needed to be turned in, but he expects a working prototype could completed within six months. The new printer will be open source as Levantis hopes anyone can just build objects with this printer and some supplies that they can easily find in local market.

Check out the video below Alasdair Allan of Makezine interviews with Ilya Levantis from the London Biohackspace about the JuicyPrint.


Posted in 3D Printers


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