MIT researchers are developing organic printable sensors

MIT researchers are developing organic printable sensors
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Christian Boas

Biosensors that record or measure harmful substances will be on the skin in the future, at least when researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) think.


3D printing process
The team led by Xuanhe Zhao and Timothy Lu has developed a 3D printing process using an ink consisting of genetically modified bacteria. These have been manipulated to light up when they come into contact with the material for which they are designed.

The researchers have printed out the bacterial sensors in the form of a tree. Each branch contains differently programmed bacteria. They call her work “Living Tattoo”. The method is suitable for equipping garments or interactive displays with living sensors. They can be programmed for pollutants in the environment, for temperature changes or for certain chemicals.

An ink containing bacteria has also been developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, but for a different purpose. With the ink “nimble” can be produced biological materials that degrade toxins or high-purity cellulose for biomedical applications.

Living ink
The MIT researchers are not the first to work with living ink. Unlike the Swiss, the US colleagues were not very successful. For example, mammalian cells died during printing. “They are too soft,” says Hyunwoo Yuk, who also belongs to the team. This is different with bacteria. Their cells have a solid shell, so they survive relatively harsh conditions without damage, to be pressed through the nozzle of the printer.

In addition, they are immune to hydrogels that form the pasty fraction of the ink. Hydrogels are mixed together from water and small amounts of plastic. There are also nutrients for the bacteria that ensure their survival. The researchers compare the consistency of their ink with toothpaste, which is squeezed out of a tube. It retains its shape on the respective base. The gel cures under ultraviolet light.

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