MIT Researchers 3D print a "living tattoo"


MIT Researchers have developed a 3D printed living tattoo which could change how we interact with each other and the world.

Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a living tattoo  which has been 3D printed using genetically programmed bacterial cells. It is capable of detecting certain environmental stimuli and lights up when triggered.

The tattoo is shaped like a tree, with each of the branches being sensitive to different stimuli. When activated, the branches light up, indicating it has detected something. It is able to respond to various stimuli including pollutants, pH levels, temperature changes, etc.

The researchers were able to engineer bacteria to communicate with one another, programming some cells to light up only when they received specific data from other cells.

They believe this technique can not only be used as wearable stickers, but can also be implemented in pills and surgical implants. One of the uses proposed is for conditions such as diabetes, where an implant could release glucose slowly throughout the day when it detects low blood sugar.

“We can use bacterial cells like workers in a 3D factory” says graduate student Xinyue liu, a member of the research team and co-author of its paper published in Advanced Materials earlier this week.

There have been other such developments recently. Earlier this year, Harvard and MIT researchers collaborated to create bio-sensitive tattoo ink that is able to sense multiple conditions, such as dehydration or low blood sugar. Chaotic Moon Studios (acquired by Accenture in 2015) created Tech Tats; temporary electronic tattoos composed of electrically-conductive paint, LED lights, sensors and a mini controller. They are able to monitor body temperature, blood pressure, hydration levels, blood sugar, heart rate and stress levels.

 The main challenge behind the project was finding a cell suitable for 3D printing, which exerts great stress on the cells. Mammals cells proved to be too sensitive for printing, but bacteria cells which have stronger cells walls were ideal.

In the future, this development can lead to manufacturing entire living computers, which could revolutionise the wearable health device industry.


Photo Credit: Courtesy of the researchers; Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license.  Story Source:  Materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Original written by Jennifer Chu. (Content may be edited for style and length)