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Living Tattoos: The next step in 3D Printing

Rather than a tattoo of something that you love or an ex’s name, one day you could get a design that reacts to your body and the environment around you.

Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, have developed a form of 3D printing that uses genetically programmed bacterial cells. When the cells react it causes the design to illuminate in a way similar to LED lights.

The initial design features a tree made from 3 kinds of live ink, each containing a different cell type. Each of these bacteria react differently to environmental changes, such as fluctuations in body temperature and light and dark.

The study was led by one of MIT’s mechanical engineering professors Xuanhe Zhao along with a team of graduates and published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Although not technically a tattoo as the print is designed to be applied directly to the skin on a thin hydro-gel sheet, rather than embedded permanently.

For years scientists have been working on various forms of 3D printing, resulting in machines that can print an object from a complex digital replica.

3D inks have already been used to create various different environment sensitive materials but this is the first to be applied to skin. The hope is that one day the tattoos could be used to predict danger such as chemicals in the air and changes in body temperature or PH balance.

It is hoped the technique will be used to aid the development of other responsive materials such as 3D implants and edibles. One day it may also mean scientists can develop ‘living computers.’


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