3D printing is known for its use in producing small, lightweight structures -- and a team of researchers have used the technology to make studying bacteria more effective.
Scientists at The University of Texas, Austin, have designed a way to build miniature homes, at a microscopic level, for bacteria. By using a laser to construct protein "cages" around bacteria in gelatin, tiny "zoos" have been established to study the relationship between bacterial microcommunities.
The gelatin allows bacteria to be fed, live and reproduce within it. The bacteria is placed inside the solution before a two-dimensional matrix cage is projected on to the liquid. This design is then layered through 3D printing techniques and a laser to create a solid, 3D structure as the solution becomes solid. Other caged bacteria communities can then be placed close enough for the microbes to signal to each other.
In a recent experiment, the team demonstrated that a community of Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause some skin infections, became more resistant to antibiotics when it was contained within a larger community of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacteria involved in various diseases, including cystic fibrosis.
These communities of bacteria can be found in the human gut and lungs, and so by separating and merging colonies of bacteria at will, the scientists are able to research how bacterial interactions impact on the treatment of illnesses.
The 3D printing method should result in a new class of experiments designed to replicate biological environments with better accuracy.
"It allows us to basically define every variable," said Jodi Connell, a postdoctoral researcher in the College of Natural Sciences. "We can define the spatial features on a size scale that's relevant to what a single bacterium feels and senses. We can also much more precisely simulate the kinds of complex bacterial ecologies that exist in actual infections, where there typically aren't just one but multiple species of bacteria interacting with each other."
The work was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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