Researchers Combine Ideas of 3D Printing With Molecular Self-assembly – Is Molecular Manufacturing Next?

Share this Article

What’s the ultimate extension of 3D printing technology? Where could 3D printing take us in the future? For me, I believe that eventually, whether it’s in my lifetime or not, we will have nano-factories, 3D printing at the molecule-2molecular level. I envision a future where we are able to turn our garbage into just about anything we want, via a sophisticated computer system, along with hardware capable of breaking any mass down to its molecular level, before using those molecules to construct a brand new object.

Yes, I realize that many of you are probably thinking, “Why am I reading this article from this kook?” However, a couple of researchers including Justin Barone, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech, and Ryan Senger, an assistant professor, have taken the first steps towards such a future.

The two men have combined the ideas of 3D printing with that of molecular self assembly to create a process which they call ‘genetic 3D printing’. For those who are not biologists, molecular self assembly is simply the process in which molecules arrange themselves in a particular order without guidance from an outside source. Molecular self assembly is a bottom-up approach like that of 3D printing.molecule-3

The discovery, which was accidental, allowed the researchers to create proteins which have the ability to self assemble into fibers. The discovery was made while they were simply trying to produce gluten adhesives, by cutting out a section of the gluten protein. What happened next surprised them. When the section of the protein was removed, fibers self assembled themselves in the beaker.

“I immediately thought it was a mistake,” Barone said. “I thought the student, who was losing his hair, was losing hair all over the lab and told him to wear a hair net. So he did it again and was more careful and got fibers again. This time, I had them vacuum the whole lab and all the air ducts because I thought it was coming from the vents or something. But we got them again. So we started to study them and realized we had something big.”

Researcher Justin Barone. (Image credit: https://www.research.vt.edu)

Researcher Justin Barone. (Image credit: https://www.research.vt.edu)

The quality of the fibers were on par with those produced by silk spiders, something which researchers have been trying to produce for years. Spider silk has a strength-to-weight ratio which is five times that of steel, making it an ideal material for all sorts of applications.molecule-1

The researchers went back and realized that they can manipulate the protein structures of the fibers to change their colors, but this wasn’t all. By combining the gluten protein with other proteins, they are able to molecularly print fibers with varying electrical properties, strengths and colors. In ordinary 3D printing, individuals use a software to translate a computer code and raw material into a physical object. In this case the researchers found that they were able to use a genetic blueprint as their computer code and back-calculate the DNA, which was inserted into a host bacterium, in this case e-coli. From there, the protein (raw material) grew, left the cell, and interacted with one another to build the fibers which the researchers had predetermined.

If this seems amazing, both Barone and Senger believe that they could eventually utilize this method as a way to molecularly manufacture all sorts of objects. Because the protein fibers are natural building blocks, once a method is figured out in which they are able to get the fibers to organize into larger structures, anything could be possible. From a coffee pot, to human bone, or even muscle, the researchers believe that one day this method of 3D printing fibers could manufacture it all.

The researchers are currently working to further their discovery, and produce the silk-like fibers in large quantity for a variety of uses.  Additionally they are looking for ways to increase the size of each fiber, eventually enabling the manufacturing of larger objects.

“All of the fibers have the same fate: to end up in an engineered product that we will eventually genetically 3-D print,” Barone said.
 Let’s hear your thoughts on this type of  ‘genetic 3D printing’ in the 3D printed fiber forum thread on 3DPB.com.
[Source: vt.edu]

Share this Article


Recent News

Polyga Releases Professional Handheld H3 3D Scanning System

Lung Cancer Treatment: 3D Printing Molds for Personalized Airway Stents



Categories

3D Design

3D Printed Art

3D Printed Food

3D Printed Guns


You May Also Like

3D Printing and COVID-19, May 29, 2020 Update: Lessons for Going Forward

Companies, organizations and individuals continue to attempt to lend support to the COVID-19 pandemic supply effort. We will be providing regular updates about these initiatives where necessary in an attempt to ensure...

Featured

Virtual AM Medical Event: From Innovations to the Future of Additive Manufacturing in the Medical Industry

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) hosted a first-of-its-kind event with experts discussing the instrumental role and impact of additive manufacturing (AM) on patient care. Originally set to take...

3D Printing Review in Drug Delivery Systems: Pharmaceutical Particulates and Membranes

Researchers from Egypt, India, and the UK are studying the role of 3D printing in drug delivery systems. Their findings are detailed in the recently released ‘Pharmaceutical Particulates and Membranes...

Sponsored

3DHEALS2020: A Not So Lonely Planet

Only a few weeks away from 3DHEALS2020, and I just got off the phone with one of our speakers, Dr. Ho, from NAMIC Singapore. Our brief interview reminded me just...


Shop

View our broad assortment of in house and third party products.


Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our 3DPrint.com.

You have Successfully Subscribed!