World's first 'living tattoo' could be a wearable device in the future

World's first 'living tattoo' could be a wearable device in the future

Once they found bacterial cells were the ideal candidate, they genetically programmed the cells to light up and mixed them with a specific type of hydrogel and nutrients required to maintain their functionality. The fact that the bacteria could survive when added to a hydrogel, and then later coping with the intense force of being pushed through a small print nozzle, suggests that these cells were definitely the right choice for the first form of viable living ink.

Bacteria cells make up the tattoo, which the researchers were able to 3D print into the shape of a tree.

Researchers at MIT have created a new responsive material that can change along with its environment, using living cells that act like basic computers. Previous attempts have used mammalian cells, which "are too weak, and they easily rupture", Hyunwoo Yuk, a graduate student and paper co-author, told MIT News.

Finally, the ink with living cells was 3D printed to create a tattoo with a tree-like pattern. Furthermore, bacteria, unlike mammalian cells, are compatible with most hydrogels - gel-like materials that are made from a mix of mostly water and a bit of polymer.

"We found this new ink formula works very well and can print at a high resolution of about 30 micrometres per feature", Zhao said. "We can also print relatively large-scale structures, measuring several centimeters". When the patch was tested on a human hand that had been applied with different target chemicals the bacteria successfully illuminated its branches when sensing the corresponding chemical.

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The MIT researchers have stated that with further development, it may be possible to have the cells communicate with each other. To test this, they printed one patch with filaments containing signal-producing bacteria, another with signal-receiving bacteria, and overlaid the latter on the former. That means that sometime in the future, we could all be walking around with living, responsive tattoos that tell us when it's not safe to go outside because air pollution levels are unsafe, or even just act as a temperature gauge right on your body. The ink could also be used in drug capsules and surgical devices, which would release therapeutic substances over time; this application could also use cells which have been engineered to produce the therapeutic substances, said fellow team member Xinyue Liu.

"We can use bacterial cells like workers in a 3-D factory", Liu says.

"This is very future work, but we expect to be able to print living computational platforms that could be wearable", Yuk says.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.

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