If you consider your tattoo your pride and joy then the future of ink will literally be your friend (or freak the hell out of you). Engineers from MIT have just devised the world’s first ‘living tattoo’ using a 3D printing technique.
The brains from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology accomplished this task by utilising a new form of ink which is made entirely of genetically programmed living bacteria cells.
These cells have been programmed to light up in response to a variety of stimuli and when they’re mixed with hydrogel and other nutrients, they form an ink structure which can be printed layer by layer, much like the conventional 3D printers of today – except this one’s alive.
The first example of this living tattoo can be seen in the image above where the team printed a live bacteria tattoo in the shape of a tree onto a transparent patch bonded to human skin. Each of these branches consist of a specific cell which is sensitive to different chemical or molecular compounds.
In other words, when the patch is adhered to the skin that has been exposed to the specific compound, that section of the tree will light up in response, creating a motif that changes depending on what it’s exposed to. Animated tattoos, anyone?
“We found this new ink formula works very well and can print at a high resolution of about 30 micrometres per feature”
The ground-breaking research was headed by Xuanhe Zhao, the Noyce Career Development Professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Timothy Lu, associate professor of biological engineering and of electrical engineering and computer science. Whilst the research isn’t specifically targeted at body ink, the pair say that the invention can also be used to fabricate “active” materials for wearable sensors and interactive displays.
“We found this new ink formula works very well and can print at a high resolution of about 30 micrometres per feature,” Zhao says. “That means each line we print contains only a few cells. We can also print relatively large-scale structures, measuring several centimetres.”
On a more pragmatic front, the ink can be bonded with common materials and used to detect environmental chemicals and pollutants as well as changes in pH or temperature.
Hyunwoo Yuk who is a co-author of the study added that the technology could bring forth the printing of living computers – “structures with multiple types of cells that communicate with each other, passing signals back and forth, much like transistors on a microchip,” the study explained.
“This is very future work, but we expect to be able to print living computational platforms that could be wearable,” Yuk adds.
To understand exactly how this complex technology works, watch the video below.