Scientists at the University of Texas have developed a method of creating gelatin “cages”for bacteria through 3D printing that may help lead to a better understanding of how bacteria function in groups. By using a method similar to that of commercial 3D printing, they are able to trap bacteria in small molds of virtually any shape that allow their group behavior to be studied in greater detail than has previously been possible.
Bacteria behave much differently when grouped in colonies, and can develop a far greater resistance to antibiotics than they could individually, making infections significantly harder to treat. Scientists have grown and studied bacteria in the lab for over a century, but until this new breakthrough, they have been unable to recreate the conditions necessary to manually create a colony of bacteria.
This new technique works by suspending bacteria in a mold of gelatin, which is formed to a particular shape (just like Jell-O) much in the same manner as 3D printing with plastics. Then, a laser is fired at the mold, which changes the molecular structure of the gelatin, causing it to bond together, creating a “cage” around the bacteria. Finally, the rest of the gelatin is washed away, leaving the bacteria trapped together in what some scientists are calling a bacteria zoo.
By studying these bacteria zoos, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of how bacteria colonize. Their ultimate goal is to use their findings to fight infections in humans.