Researchers report 3D-printed microalgae breakthrough

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In New York and the Netherlands, researchers have successfully 3-D printed living algae to create a self-sustaining material that could have wide-ranging applications in everything from fashion to Mars colonization. 

The breakthrough was the result of a collaboration between the University of Rochester and Delft University of Technology and involved treating living microalgae like ink in a printer and nonliving cellulose excreted by bacteria like the paper.  The combination created a living, self-sustaining structure combining algae’s photosynthesis capabilities and cellulose’s resilience. 

“Our living materials are exciting because they can sustain themselves over periods of weeks and can be multiplied onsite, so that they have the potential to be truly long-lasting and able to be shared all over the globe as easily as sourdough starter,” says Anne S. Meyer, an associate professor of biology at Rochester.

The material could be used to make artificial leaves that fight climate change, can be converted into fuels, or could help produce energy in conditions where plants don’t grow well—including space colonies. The research is published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.