Biofilms can grow on virtually any surface available, with impacts ranging from endangering the lives of patients to degrading unwanted water contaminants. Biofilm research is challenging due to the high degree of biofilm heterogeneity. A method for the production of standardized, reproducible, and patterned biofilm-inspired materials could be a boon for biofilm research and allow for completely new engineering applications. Here, we present such a method, combining 3D printing with genetic engineering. We prototyped a low-cost 3D printer that prints bioink, a suspension of bacteria in a solution of alginate that solidifies on a calcium-containing substrate. We 3D-printed Escherichia coli in different shapes and in discrete layers, after which the cells survived in the printing matrix for at least 1 week. When printed bacteria were induced to form curli fibers, the major proteinaceous extracellular component of E. coli biofilms, they remained adherent to the printing substrate and stably spatially patterned even after treatment with a matrix-dissolving agent, indicating that a biofilm-mimicking structure had formed. This work is the first demonstration of patterned, biofilm-inspired living materials that are produced by genetic control over curli formation in combination with spatial control by 3D printing. These materials could be used as living, functional materials in applications such as water filtration, metal ion sequestration, or civil engineering, and potentially as standardizable models for certain curli-containing biofilms.
- 3D printing
- synthetic biology