Next month, Anne Meyer, of the Delft University of Technology in Holland, and her research team will present their recent work at the annual Microbiology Society conference in Edinburgh, United Kingdom. Meyer and her colleagues have been working to transform bacteria into a substitute for graphene, a 3D printing filament. They have found that some types of bacteria can be transformed into a suitable substitute for graphene by simply placing it on graphene oxide, where the bacteria feeds itself on the oxygen atoms, reducing the graphene oxide levels. The more graphene oxide is reduced, the closer in composure it is to graphene.
Where the typical process of reducing graphene oxide is fairly pricey and requires the use of some pretty strong chemicals, this process is much cheaper and its safer for the environment too. Although the chemical process still yields a better quality of graphene oxide, the bacteria could become quite useful for precise fabrications of small objects. Meyer and her team proved this by modifying a 3D printer to enable the printing of bacteria onto a surface. They tested their theory by mixing and algae gel with E. coli and 3D printing the solution onto a calcium ion infused tray. When the gel came into contact with the calcium, it solidified, proving that the bacteria successfully stayed in place.
Although modifications of the 3D printer were fairly easy, getting the bio-ink fit for the job is another challenge. According to Madeline Burke, a researcher at the U.K.’s University of Bristol, “You need these contrasting properties (conductive & non-conductive) of printing – on one hand being able to squeeze the liquid out of a nozzle, but also it being able to keep its shape afterwards,” While this may pose a problem for the present day, 3D printing technology is constantly improving and advancing. Meyer believes that they will soon be able to add to these advances by placing small conductive wires into the surface of the graphene oxide to create the contrasting properties.