02 December 2013
The Small Print
Our trillions of ‘friendly’ gut bacteria communicate with one another and their environment by sending and receiving chemical signals. The outcomes of their socialising can affect our health both positively and negatively. But untangling and decoding the signals is difficult, like focusing on one conversation in a crowded room. Scientists have solved this problem through the unlikely means of 3D printing: custom-made structures, such as the one shown here in red, can be printed from gelatine to trap bacteria, shown in green, into virtually any arrangement. Using this technique, researchers discovered that a surrounding shell of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from the human gut prevents the death of non-resistant gut bacteria enclosed within it when treated with antibiotics. Designing 3D-printed test habitats will shed light on how bacterial interactions affect our health, potentially leading to new, more effective antibiotic treatments.
Written by Emma Saxon
Image by J. Connel, E. Ritschdorff, M. Whiteley and J. Shear
The University of Texas at Austin
Copyright held by original authors
Research published in PNAS, September 2013