Their approach to 3D printing bacteria may also prove effective in constructing objects out of graphene — the buzzy supermaterial that, as a sheet of carbon atoms, is harder than diamonds and conducts electricity more efficiently than copper.
One approach to making graphene starts with another chemical precursor called graphene oxide, and then chemically reduces it.
"Chemical reduction approaches are typically very energy intensive, and can make a lot of chemical waste," Meyer said.
A specific strain of bacteria, on the other hand, can serve as a reducing agent, stripping away oxygen atoms from the material.
"We can mix up graphene oxide with this bacteria, leave it on the counter overnight, and when we come back the next day, it has made graphene by reducing the graphene oxide," Meyer said. "You don't have to have a chemical lab to do it."
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