Printer Uses Algae To Print Live Structures

There’s a famous scene in the movie version of Frankenstein — but not in the book — where the doctor exclaims: “It’s alive!” We wonder if researchers at TU Delft had the same experience after printing living structures using algae. Of course, they aren’t creating life or even reanimating it. They are simply depositing living cells in artificial structures using a bio-compatible substrate. According to the paper, the living cells or bio ink can build up layers in a 3D printing fashion and the structures are “self-standing.”

There are some advantages, for example that the algae get their energy from sunlight. Of course they also have to eat, so unless you provide some snacks, your print will die off in about 3 days.

The prints are bacterial cellulose with living microalgae placed at millimeter-scale locations. The primary use is to make artificial leaves that can convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and energy in the form of sugars.

We expect this will be at best a niche application, although the paper speculates on using it in a variety of situations. The biggest draw to this method appears to be that the substrate is mechanically robust and allows for photosynthesis. None of this seemed out of reach to a reasonably well-equipped biohacker, and the hardware was a conventional 3D printerΒ with a few do-it -yourself mods.

We’ve seen cheap printers rebuilt into lab gear before. More than once, in fact.

18 thoughts on “Printer Uses Algae To Print Live Structures

    1. The answer would be yes but only structures that fledgling corals can attach to and grow in a tank to be later transplanted to start a reef. This doesn’t solve the problems that are killing reefs.

      1. Reef problems are overstated, otherwise the long term landsat data would show them shrinking rather than “pulsing”, growing and moving. Yeah they do this slow migration thing, interesting stuff if you do actually look at the data.

          1. That is not even remotely logical the climate is always changing, there have been vast changes since humans first entered the Australia continent +50,000 years ago and the reef of its East coast is ten time as old as that, even if the current form is only 8000 years old. It is a dynamic phenomena and is currently expanding southward, the total area is not diminishing. If you had evidence that proved otherwise you could e.g. lay out the landsat images showing both the scale of variability and the current size such that it was smaller and at a scale that was significantly greater than the variability range. But the evidence does not exist to support your hypothesis. Show me the actual science.

          2. WordPress doesn’t allow nested comments deep enough for me to reply directly to the comment below. Yes, the climate has always been changing. Yes, coral reefs are dynamic. Neither of those facts changes the fact that right now, the climate is changing rapidly. Rapid change means that ecosystems can’t adapt fast enough, and local extinctions are the result.

            Nor am I trying to argue that climate change is the _only_ cause of coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef. CO2 increase on its own is a threat – increased CO2 in water leads to a higher concentration of dissolved carbonic acids, which lowers the pH, which dissolves the calcium carbonate that coral reefs are made of. Nutrient runoff causes local eutrification, disrupting food chains.

            We could draw a Venn diagram of “effects of climate change” and “threats to the Great Barrier reef.” There would be some overlap but not 100%.

            You say “show me the actual science” but then seem to suggest that Landsat images can somehow tell us what happened over 8000 year or 50000 year time scales. Perhaps I have misinterpreted this argument?

            There’s a decent paper available for free here that has some projections: but it’s from 2003 and doesn’t have record of the most recent bleaching events.

            The abstract here seems to support my hypothesis:

            I agree that hysterical screaming that “climate change is going to kill us all” doesn’t help address the problem. But nor does just blithely saying “the climate has always been changing,” or arguing that just because the reef won’t be wiped out, that the increase in frequency and severity of bleaching events doesn’t have a huge negative impact on the reef ecosystem as a whole.

    2. Coral are animals, that host a small amount of algae, most of the time. So why would you want to print one? The hardest thing about coral is the conditions they need, if you have those they will grow without help and make their own structures. You can use solar powered electrolysis to build up calcium carbonate on conducting frames to form the artificial reefs that host coral, but again all of the other conditions need to be suitable for the particular species you are interested in growing.

  1. What is the possibility of printing algae structures that can grow and then have their oil extracted ? This could be a carbon sequestration method as well.

    (Sorry.. can’t help myself). Are you sure this isn’t….. Soilent Green ?

    1. You don’t need them in a solid structure to do that. Lots of people have tried using algae for carbon capture, but the cost is too high. The cheapest way to capture carbon is to plant native trees.

      1. The US carbon emissions per person per year is about 15 metric tons. That means that In order to offset your own individual contribution only, you would need to plan enough trees for the biomass to increase by around 40kg every single day.

        That’s tough to do.

        1. You could also do rational things like stop driving massive cars that barely do 5mpg, reduce your electric use etc… On the whole the average American has lots of waste carbon or otherwise generated that it would be easy to reduce. (Not saying all of the rest of the world is golden either – you mentioned US, and as individuals on average the US does seem to be the worst for carbon per person almost no matter how you measure…)

          1. Woah woah woah. Stop with all this talk of responsibility, logic, and reason. You sound like a Socialist. I absolutely need my F-150 for my daily commute, 200lbs of beef a year, and central air conditioning and space heaters running at the same time, all powered by beautiful clean coal, none of that Liberal nuclear or renewable nonsense the Communists tried to trick us into!

            Next you’ll be saying I should wear a mask, get vaccinated, and not deliberately spread disease!

    2. Commercial aquaculture already produces krill oil, algae, and seaweed based renewable food products. However, the bio-fuel research is still in its infancy. It will probably become a necessity at some point given the run off from cities are already causing eutrophication events more often.

      If I had to bet on Cold Fusion or a engineered algae-fed self-propagating microscopic crustacean that is already mostly bio-diesel by mass after transesterification…. Than I think the odds are very good the research will become more alluring as people start to realize going electric only bought us a bit more time. However, one advantage with centralized power generation is changing energy sources to sustainable options becomes less of a monumental political task.

      @Fred, just β€œ[t]he biomass of Antarctic krill was estimated in 2009 to be 0.05 gigatons of carbon (Gt C), similar to the total biomass of Humans (0.06 Gt C).” ( )

      Note… less ice means less krill, but the earth will eventually be just fine even if the humans are gone. The people who think they are going to escape these consequences by going to space are just as doomed…. Did you know algae based CO2 scrubbers for space travel have already proven viable in labs, and one day it may indeed be keeping the last of us alive clinging to the hope our self-destructive collective nature has finally changed.

      Best not think about it too much. ;-)

  2. I expected something 3D printed to look more… 3d? Those look like you could have poured it into a sheet with a spoon and wiped some straight lines through it…?

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