A 3D printed shape using BactoInk will mineralize within a few days. (Credit: Eva Baur)

Researchers have pioneered a 3D printable ink that contains Sporosarcina pasteurii: a bacterium that, when exposed to a urea-containing solution, triggers a mineralization process that produces calcium carbonate (CaCO3). The ink — dubbed BactoInk — can be used to 3D print virtually any shape, which will then gradually mineralize over the course of a few days.

3D printing inks containing small mineral particles have previously been used to meet some of these flow criteria, but the resulting structures tend to be soft or to shrink upon drying, leading to cracking and loss of control over the shape of the final product.

The result is a strong and resilient biocomposite, which can be produced using a standard 3D printer and natural materials, and without the extreme temperatures often required for manufacturing ceramics. Final products no longer contain living bacteria because they are submerged in ethanol at the end of the mineralization process.

The fact that the biocomposite’s structure and mechanical properties mimic those of bone could potentially make it interesting for future biomedical applications.

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