As pollution problems continue to plague our planet, decontaminating water is as important as ever. Knowing this, researchers at the University of California, San Diego have just created an amazing new tool to aid future cleanup projects. It’s a 3D-printed “artificial life material” made of seaweed polymers and genetically engineered bacteria that degrade organic pollutants. Underwater.
This is explained in detail in a new paper published in . nature communications, this remarkable work comes courtesy of a team working within the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) at the University of California, San Diego.by Project announcementThe researchers first hydrated a seaweed-derived polymer known as alginate. Meanwhile, researchers genetically engineered waterborne photosynthetic bacteria called cyanobacteria to produce laccase, an enzyme that can neutralize antibiotics, dyes, pharmaceuticals, and organic pollutants such as BPA. The ingredients were then combined and run through a 3D printer to produce a lattice-like design with a surface area-to-volume ratio that gave the bacteria optimal access to light, gases, and nutrients.
[Related: The US might finally regulate toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water.]
“This collaboration allowed us to apply our knowledge of cyanobacterial genetics and physiology to create living materials,” said Susan Golden, faculty member in the Department of Biological Sciences. stated in a statement. “Now we can think creatively about incorporating new functions into cyanobacteria to make more useful products.”
To test the product they developed, engineers introduced decontamination equipment into water contaminated by indigo carmine, a blue dye commonly used in the production of denim fabrics. The team’s grid-like living tool successfully decolorized aqueous solutions safely and effectively over several days.
However, a mixture of alginate and cyanobacteria will still remain in the water. Replacing one foreign contaminant with a foreign synthetic bacterium does not necessarily solve the larger problem of contamination. To solve this, the team at the University of California, San Diego further engineered cyanobacteria to react inversely to theophylline, a molecule similar to caffeine found in many teas and chocolates. When a decontamination substance comes into contact with the molecules, the bacteria subsequently produce specific proteins to break down and destroy their own cells and remove the material.
“The living material acts on the target contaminant, and then small molecules can be added to kill the contaminant.” [cyanobacteria]John Pokorski, professor of nanoengineering and co-lead of the study, said: said in the announcement. “This can reduce concerns about the persistence of genetically modified bacteria in the environment.”
This living filler already has the potential to be useful in decontamination projects, but the researchers will eventually take the material a step further by engineering it to self-destruct without the need for additional external chemicals. I’m thinking of moving forward.
“Our goal is to create materials that respond to stimuli already present in the environment,” Pokorsky explained.