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3-D-printed bacteria allow scientists to study infections

By Andrew Ellis     Oct 9, 2013 in Science
Austin - 3-D printing has allowed those own such technology to print everything from silverware to gun parts. Now, scientists are using it to study infections.
According to NBC News.com, scientists at the University of Texas in Austin are using 3-D printing technology to make custom "bacterial colonies" to try to understand how antibiotic-resistant infections are developed.
Using the new method, according to e! Science News, would allow a whole new kind of experiments that would better simulate the conditions the bacteria face in actual "biological environments" like the human body.
Jodi Connell, a postdoctoral researcher at the College of Natural Sciences said, according to e! Science News:
"It allows us to basically define every variable. We can define the spatial features on a size scale that's relevant to what a single bacterium feels and senses. We can also much more precisely simulate the kinds of complex bacterial ecologies that exist in actual infections, where there typically aren't just one but multiple species of bacteria interacting with each other."
The NBC article said that understanding bacterial clustering is vital "precisely" because bacteria that is grouped up often acts in different way than one cell one its own would. The bacteria cluster could attach itself like cement onto a surface with substances similar to glue. These create biofilms that make antibiotics and immune systems look very ineffective.
The method, according to PSY.org, involves a 3-D printer that build "homes" for the bacteria at a microscopic level. A laser to is used to build protein cages around the bacteria from gelatin. The finished structures can be made into any shape, and brought into any other structures with bacterial microcommunities.
Jason Shear, a study researcher at the University of Texas in Austin, according to NBC News.com, said that the new technique could be used to look into a number of important questions like "how many bacteria have to be clustered together, and in what size and what shape, in order for that microcolony to start acting differently than the cells do on their own."
Shear also talked about the long-term goals of this method, and how it will help fight human infection, according to PSY.org:
"Think about a hospital, which we know is not a good place to be to avoid infections. There are studies that seem to indicate that infections are transmitted by very small microcolonies of bacteria, which are likely transported by equipment or staff from one part of the hospital to another. We currently know little about how this is happening. How many cells does it take? Do these microcommunities become particularly virulent or antibiotic resistant precisely because they're small, and then in turn change the properties of bacteria on our skin or in our bodies? Now we have a means to start asking these questions much more broadly."
NBC News.com said that the report from the researchers is in the current issue of the journal called The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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