NASA Research Aims to Print Wood in Space
Kyle Maxey posted on February 12, 2014 |
A new bioprinting methodology could leverage the power of cellular biology to create non-living biol...

3d printing, materials, biomaterial, NASAIn a completely new twist for the world of 3D printing, two researchers are working to create a new bioprinting methodology that would see clumps of cells spawn custom engineered, non-living biomaterials.

Funded in part by one of NASA’s $100,000 Innovative Advanced Concept grants, evolutionary biologist Lynn Rothschild and her PhD student Diana Gentry are looking to engineer cells that can be printed and then activated to create biological materials like bone, enamel and wood.

“Cells in nature are already highly specialized for making complex biological materials on a micro scale.” Reads a description of the project furnished by NASA. “We envision combining these strengths with the recently emergent technologies of synthetic biology and additive manufacturing to create 3D-structured arrays of cells that are bioengineered to secrete different materials in a specified three-dimensional pattern.”

To create their cellular arrays Gentry and Rothschild are hard at work designing a custom microdispensing platform that can layer two different types of cells within a 3-dimensional matrix all bound together by a gelling solution. To turn their cells into biological material micro-factories the researchers introduce a chemical signaling agent tailored to begin the process of churning out any desired material.

While some may scoff that Rothschild and Gentry’s ideas are simply science fiction, the pair claims that they’ll be ready to prove their technology works by October 2014. If the Stanford researchers’ claims are true, a new paradigm for materials engineering could be close to realization.

According to Gentry, “I want to see if I can add a new class of materials to the palette of materials that people make things out of.”

In the far future, Gentry and Rothschild’s work could open up avenues for terrestrial materials like wood and bone to be produced on extraterrestrial soil. I think its safe to say that a development like that could have massive repercussions for architecture, medicine and a number of other fields that might one day inhabit outer space.

Image Courtesy of [DA1] 

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