A method for bioprinting algae has been devised to generate photosynthetic, living materials that are strong and resilient. 

In the study entitled "Bioprinting of Regenerative Photosynthetic Living Materials" published in Advanced Functional Materials, researchers from the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands showed this novel 3D bioprinting technique creating a living artificial leaf material made of algae cells-an approach, they said, that would have profound implications for the future.

Such living materials, which have been widely used in research projects in recent years, are made by integrating living biological cells into non-living shells or matrices, 3D Printing Industry stated in an article. Fabrication of such artificial living materials is often faced with issues relating to mechanical toughness and functional performance. However, the TU Delft researchers have blazed the trail.

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Artificial Leaf Showed Photosynthetic Ability and Strength

The researchers started with 3D printing dead cellulose that they excreted from bacteria that shows useful qualities such as durability, robustness, flexibility, and shape memory. They then used a 3D printer to deposit living algae onto the cellulose substrate.

As a result, the artificial leaf both had the algae's photosynthetic ability and the cellulose's sturdiness. The material was not only biodegradable and inexpensive but also could feed on sunlight and even regenerate due to its photosynthetic nature. as per GEN News.

3-D bioprinting
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The study authors said that the material could last for at least three days without any nutrients, but could survive longer if given those nutrients. The printed copies could be easily scaled up to 270 centimeters x 20 centimeters in size. Cellulose strengthened the printed copies and allowed them to stand on their own, yet detachable and attachable to various surfaces.

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Living cell printing offers an exciting, attractive innovation for the fabrication of engineered living materials, said Marie-Eve Aubin-Tam, associate professor from the Faculty of Applied Sciences at TU Delft in an article on The photosynthetic living material, she said, has the distinct benefit of being mechanically strong for real-life applications.

Leading to Possible Energy Generating Applications in Space

Applications include the fabrication of artificial leaves that could turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and energy. With its power to transform sugars produced by the leaves into fuel, the material could even generate energy in areas where plants fail to grow efficiently, such as in space.

Researchers produced a material that can generate energy by simply exposing it to light, Kui Yu, a TU Delft doctoral student and part of the study team said further in a TUDelft press release. It is also a sustainable living material due to the biodegradable nature of the microalgal cells.

Another use for the material could be the fabrication of elements that sense and respond the same way as plants. In this concept, such artificial materials would sense, grow, adapt, and even perish just like normal living things. Here, they hope their research would lead to more research and discussions between science and design communities and push new directions for studies on future photosynthetic living materials.

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