Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Bug Ears
14 April 2018

Bug Ears

Some types of bacteria produce cellulose – a bendy material that’s incredibly versatile. By controlling the supply of oxygen to aerobic bacteria, bacterial cellulose can be 'grown' on demand in the lab – either in massive slabs, or more intricate designs. This ear shape, for example, was grown inside a special 3D-printed mould lined with tiny beads that let oxygen through to the bacteria sloshing around inside. When oxygen meets the surface of the bacterial solution, the bacteria can get to work – filling all the intricate gaps and channels with cellulose. Because it’s a 'living' material, chunks of bacterial cellulose can knit together after popping out of their mould. The material is friendly to living tissues, so there are big plans for the technology – from designing implants and dressings for wounds, to artificial blood vessels – all built by bugs.

Written by John Ankers

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