Frontiers in 3-D Printing: Frankenfruit and Blood Vessels

bioprinting3-D printing is pushing the boundaries of manufacturing all the time, expanding its repertoire to include more and more in the way of manufactured products and even organic materials. Amongst the many possibilities this offers, arguably the most impressive are those that fall into the categories of synthetic food and replacement organs. In this vein, two major breakthroughs took place last month, with the first-time unveiling of both 3-D printed hybrid fruit and blood vessels.

The first comes from a Dovetailed, UK-based design company which presented its 3-D food printer on Saturday, May 24th, at the Tech Food Hack event in Cambridge. Although details on how it works are still a bit sparse, it is said to utilize a technique known as “spherification” – a molecular gastronomy technique in which liquids are shaped into tiny spheres – and then combined with spheres of different flavors into a fruit shape.

frankenfruit1According to a report on 3DPrint, the process likely involves combining fruit puree or juice with sodium alginate and then dripping the mixture into a bowl of cold calcium chloride. This causes the droplets to form into tiny caviar-like spheres, which could subsequently be mixed with spheres derived from other fruits. The blended spheres could then be pressed, extruded or otherwise formed into fruit-like shapes for consumption.

The designers claim that the machine is capable of 3D-printing existing types of fruit such as apples or pears, or user-invented combined fruits, within seconds. They add that the taste, texture, size and shape of those fruits can all be customized. As Vaiva Kalnikaitė, creative director and founder of Dovetailed, explained:

Our 3D fruit printer will open up new possibilities not only to professional chefs but also to our home kitchens – allowing us to enhance and expand our dining experiences… We have been thinking of making this for a while. It’s such an exciting time for us as an innovation lab. Our 3D fruit printer will open up new possibilities not only to professional chefs but also to our home kitchens, allowing us to enhance and expand our dining experiences. We have re-invented the concept of fresh fruit on demand.

frankenfruit2And though the idea of 3-D printed fruit might seem unnerving to some (the name “Frankenfruit” is certainly predicative of that), it is an elegant solution of what to do in an age where fresh fruit and produce are likely to become increasingly rare for many. With the effects of Climate Change (which included increased rates of drought and crop failure) expected to intensify in the coming decades, millions of people around the world will have to look elsewhere to satisfy their nutritional needs.

As we rethink the very nature of food, solutions that can provide us sustenance and make it look the real thing are likely to be the ones that get adopted. A video of the printing in action is show below:


Meanwhile, in the field of bioprinting, researchers have experienced another breakthrough that may revolution the field of medicine. When it comes to replacing vital parts of a person’s anatomy, finding replacement blood vessels and arteries can be just as daunting as finding sources of replacement organs,  limbs, skin, or any other biological material. And thanks to the recent efforts of a team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston, MA, it may now be possible to fabricate these using a bioprinting technique.

3d_bloodvesselsThe study was published online late last month in Lab on a Chip. The study’s senior author,  Ali Khademhosseini – PhD, biomedical engineer, and director of the BWH Biomaterials Innovation Research Center – explained the challenge and their goal as follows:

Engineers have made incredible strides in making complex artificial tissues such as those of the heart, liver and lungs. However, creating artificial blood vessels remains a critical challenge in tissue engineering. We’ve attempted to address this challenge by offering a unique strategy for vascularization of hydrogel constructs that combine advances in 3D bioprinting technology and biomaterials.

The researchers first used a 3D bioprinter to make an agarose (naturally derived sugar-based molecule) fiber template to serve as the mold for the blood vessels. They then covered the mold with a gelatin-like substance called hydrogel, forming a cast over the mold which was then  reinforced via photocrosslinks. Khademhosseini and his team were able to construct microchannel networks exhibiting various architectural features – in other words, complex channels with interior layouts similar to organic blood vessels.

bioprinting1They were also able to successfully embed these functional and perfusable microchannels inside a wide range of commonly used hydrogels, such as methacrylated gelatin or polyethylene glycol-based hydrogels. In the former case, the cell-laden gelatin was used to show how their fabricated vascular networks functioned to improve mass transport, cellular viability and cellular differentiation. Moreover, successful formation of endothelial monolayers within the fabricated channels was achieved.

According to Khademhosseini, this development is right up there with the possibility of individually-tailored replacement organs or skin:

In the future, 3D printing technology may be used to develop transplantable tissues customized to each patient’s needs or be used outside the body to develop drugs that are safe and effective.

Taken as a whole, the strides being made in all fields of additive manufacturing – from printed metal products, robotic parts, and housing, to synthetic foods and biomaterials – all add up to a future where just about anything can be manufactured, and in a way that is remarkably more efficient and advanced than current methods allow.

 Sources: gizmag.com, 3dprint.com, phys.org

The Future is Here: Lab-Grown Burger Gets a Taste Test

labmeat0Yesterday, the world’s first lab-grown hamburger was cooked, served, and eaten. And according to an article from The Week, it passed the taste test. The taste test took place in London, where Mark Post, the man who had grown the patty in his lab at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, allowed two independent tasters to sample one of his hamburger patties.

The samplers were food writer and journalist Josh Schonwald and Austrian food trends researcher Hanni Rützler. After biting into a piece of the cooked meat in front of reporters, Schonwald claimed that “It had a familiar mouthfeel. [The difference] is the absence of fat.” Naturally, both tasters were careful not to comment on whether the burger was “good” or not, as any such judgements might seem premature and could hurt its chances for sales at this point.

lab-grown-burgerThis lab-grown patty took two years and $325,000 to produce. And as sources revealed, the money came from Google co-founder and TED speaker Sergey Brin. Worth an estimated $20 billion, Brin has a history of investing in cooky projects – everything from driverless cars to trips to the moon. And as he told The Guardian, he was moved to invest in the technology for animal welfare reasons and believes it has “the capability to transform how we view the world”.

lab-grown-burger_postThe hamburger was grown in Post’s lab using bovine skeletal muscle stem cells that were collected from a piece of fresh beef. The cells were grown by “feeding” them calf serum and commercially available growth medium to initiate multiplication and prompt them to develop into muscle cells over time. Once they differentiated into muscle cells, they were given simple nutrient sources and exercised in a bioreactor, helping the muscle to “bulk up.”

The resulting five-ounce burger, cooked by chef Richard McGeown for Schonwald and Rützler, was made using 20,000 strips of cultured meat – about 40 billion cow cells – and took about three months to produce. As Post joked, this is significantly less time than it takes to raise a cow. And while the arrival of in-vitro meat has been predicted and heralded for decades, but now that it’s finally here, people are not sure how to respond.

labmeat1On the one hand, it offers a range of possibilities for producing sustainable, cheap meat that could help meet global needs using only a laboratory. On the other, there’s no telling how long it will be before consumers will be comfortable eating something grown in a petri dish from stem cells. Between the absence of fat and the stigma that is sure to remain in place for some time, getting people to buy “lab-grown” might be difficult.

But then again, the same issues apply to 3D printed food and other forms of synthesized food. Designed and developed as a means of meeting world hunger and future population growth, and with sustainability and nutritional balance in mind, some degree of hesitation and resistance is to be expected. However, attitudes are likely to shift as time goes on and increased demand forces people to rethink the concept of “what’s for dinner”.

And while you’re thinking the issue over, be sure to check out this video of Mark Post speaking about his lab-grown burger at TEDx Haarlem:


Sources:
scientificamerican.com, theweek.co.uk, theguardian.com
, blog.ted.com,

Feeding the Future: 3D Printing to End World Hunger?

3DfoodThe Systems & Materials Research Corporation, a 3D printing development firm, received a lot of attention after it became revealed that NASA had hired him (to the tune of $125,000) to develop a printer that could create pizza. Looking ahead to the era of deep-space exploration, NASA wanted something that could provide its astronauts with food that was tasty, nutritious, and not subject to a shelf life.

But to Anjan Contractor, the head of SMRC, 3D printing also presents a solution to a much more terrestrial problem: world hunger. He sees a day when every kitchen has a 3D printer, and the earth’s 12 billion people feed themselves customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time, from cartridges of powder and oils they buy at the corner grocery store.

3dfood1Contractor’s vision would mean the end of food waste, because the powder his system will use is shelf-stable for up to 30 years. Each cartridge, whether it contains sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building block, would therefore be fully exhausted before ever needing to be returned to the store. So in addition to providing for our daily needs, this process would also eliminate a massive proportion of the waste we generate on a daily basis.

In addition, the proliferation of food synthesizers is also likely lead to new and diverse ways of producing the basic calories on which we rely. Since a powder is a powder, the inputs could be anything that contain the right organic molecules. And with open source software, where people can upload and download recipes all the time, people will have a chance to get creative and expand the repertoire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd in addition to alleviating hunger, there is the added (and arguably bigger) bonus of relieving pressure on the natural environment. Already, environmentalists are gravelly concerned about the amount of land that is consumed every year by urban sprawl. But even more disconcerting is the amount of land, forests, wetlands, and natural habitats, that are consumed and destroyed by the need to farm food for these environments, and dispose of their waste.

And he is hardly alone when it comes to the concept of turning powdered ingredients and pastes into food. The Dutch holding company known as TNO Research, which owns several technology firms, has also been contemplating the possibilities of turning any food-like starting material into an edible meal. According to an outline provided by their researchers, 3D printed meals of the future could include any of the following “alternative ingredients”:

  • algae
  • duckweed
  • grass
  • lupine seeds
  • beet leafs
  • insects

As long as the biological properties of the base materials are appropriate – meaning they have the requisite carbohydrates, protein, fatty acids, etc – than it should be possible to synthesize just about anything.

3dfood2In addition, companies like Philips and institutions like MIT have been working on the concept of food printers for many years. In Philip’s case, this research led to the creation of the Diagnostic Kitchen program. This led to ideas for a Food Printer, which was inspired by the concept of ‘molecular gastronomists’, chefs who deconstruct meals and then reassemble it in completely different ways.

In much the same way, a Food Printer would take various edible ingredients and then combine and ‘print’ them in the desired shape and consistency. The nutritional value and relevance of what was being ‘printed’ would also be adjusted based on input from the diagnostic kitchen’s nutrition monitor. If, for example, you were trying to carbo-load for an athletic event, wanted to build muscle, or lower your cholesterol, you could tweek the levels of carbs, protein, or fatty acids to suit your needs.

MIT_3DprinterAnd there’s the Cornucopia,  a 3D printer that was unveiled by MIT’s gastronomy geeks back in 2010. Here, a series of refrigerated food canisters provide the food ingredients, which are then deposited into a built-in mixer which delivers concoctions that can be either heated or cooled thanks to a temperature controlled print head. A touch screen allows users to dial in what they want, and adjust ingredients to get the desired end.

Granted, there are those who won’t likely see this as an appetizing prospect. But as Contractor notes, that’s probably because they haven’t tried the high-end stuff yet. As the technology improves, attitudes about printed food products are likely to change. What’s more, he also believes overpopulation might add a little incentive to the mix:

I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can’t supply 12 billion people sufficiently. So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food.

Quite right. When the world is bursting at the seems and so many people are forced to live together in close quarters, hardly anyone is likely to raise a fuss about assembled food. Not when the alternative is an empty belly or a planet that will collapse from the weight of so much farming and waste. So if you’re the kind of person who likes their meat, veggies and fruits to be farmed locally and organically, you may want to consider moving to the country!

And be sure to check out this concept video produced by NTO that showcases the future of 3D printing, which of course includes food production:


Source:
qz.com, popucity.net, geek.com

3D Printing to Turn Aircraft Carriers Into Mobile Factories

nimitz-class-carrier-640x424It’s no secret that NASA has turned to 3D printing as a way of opening up new frontiers of space exploration and resolving potential problems – like building moon bases or feeding astronauts. And now, it seems that the only other organization that can rival the space agency in terms of funding and scale – the US Navy- has something similar in mind.

The US Navy already boasts most of the world’s largest moveable structures – the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier taking the cake. Whats more, modern aircraft carriers are basically floating cities already, complete with conventional manufacturing facilities to provide a good portion of what the crew might need while at sea. It therefore makes perfect sense to incorporate a high-quality 3D printer into the mix.

F_35_navyWhile the ultimate goal may be the ability to print actual replacement fighters and ordinance, the current plan is to incorporate printers that can print off replacement parts and possibly even small drones. With the technology already in place, it is not difficult to imagine a carrier, or perhaps even a large land vehicle, outfitted with a high-quality 3D printer, several tons of raw materials, and a few pre-fabricated cameras and circuit boards.

What’s more, this could also make transport of basic supplies more efficient, holding powder and casing materials separately and combining them to make bullets and munitions as needed, rather than storing them in a way that takes up vast amounts of space. Researchers at Virginia Tech even told the Armed Forces Journal that they believe 3D printing could produce high-quality propellants themselves – meaning an aircraft carrier could produce its own supplies of fuel and missiles.

cyber-war-1024x843This idea drives home a number of things that are likely to become the mainstay with military technology. One is the increasing gap between the military haves and have-nots, and the increasing importance of cyber warfare in the modern world. No army or insurgent militia is likely to be able to withstand a mobile drone factory, nor is a nation that does not possess the technology be able to compete with one that does.

At the same time, simple defects, caused by cybernetic intrusion, could render such a mobile factory useless and counterproductive. In any future arms race between nations where 3D manufacturing is part of the arsenal, hacking will certainly be a factor. And last, but certainly not least, the ability to independently produce components, weapons and tools also opens up the possibility to create fully-autonomous ships and bases, complete with recycling programs that can turn waste into reusable raw material.

Cuban-Missile-CrisisSuch are the concerns of today’s military and all those who need to plan for the future. And as always, the prospects are frightening for all – not only because they make the nature of future conflicts uncertain, but because any serious advancement on one side is likely to cause others to scramble to get their hands on it as well. As any student of history knows, arms races lead to escalation and increased tension, and those rarely end well!

Source: extremetech.com