Researchers at the University of California San Diego have introduced an additively manufactured innovation in water pollution remediation. They’ve created an “engineered living material,” a 3D printed structure composed of a seaweed-based polymer combined with genetically engineered bacteria, which has the potential to make water purification more eco-friendly.
The magic behind this living material lies in its genetically modified bacteria, capable of producing enzymes that can transform various organic pollutants into harmless substances. Additionally, these bacteria can self-destruct in the presence of theophylline, a molecule commonly found in tea and chocolate, ensuring their safe removal after their task is complete.
The synergy of biology and materials science has resulted in an innovation that surpasses traditional synthetic materials. This living material’s design includes a grid-like structure, optimizing the bacteria’s proximity to the surface, thereby enhancing nutrient, gas, and light access. This increased surface area also enhances its decontamination efficiency.
As a proof of concept, the researchers successfully employed this material to decontaminate indigo carmine, a textile industry dye pollutant. Notably, they’ve devised a method for the bacteria to self-destruct without external chemical intervention, a crucial step for environmental safety.
This research opens the door to environmentally responsive materials with a wide array of potential applications. With interdisciplinary collaboration between material scientists and biologists, there is great potential for novel materials that respond to existing environmental cues. The development of materials that can efficiently and autonomously combat pollution is a step closer to achieving a cleaner, greener planet.
You can read the full paper titled “Phenotypically Complex Living Materials Containing Engineered Cyanobacteria” at this link.
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