3-D printers have been popping up a lot lately, printing food, furniture, and glass — you can even buy your very own home-use printer from a market in Brooklyn! While nature has been generating 3-D shapes since the dawn of time, a team of researchers is now manipulating the process to grow consumer goods! The IDEOdesign company and the Lim Lab at the University of California have been conceptualizing the possibility of creating consumer objects from bacteria, including the threatening E.coli.

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Although just a conceptual idea at this point, the team is applying real science to come up with innovative ways to manipulate growing bacteria like E. coli to be useable with a 3-D printer. The team hopes to harness control of bacteria growth through processes like genetic engineering and novel growth media. IDEO’s Will Carey and Adam Reineck, along with UCSF’s Reid Williams, hypothesize that the key to the process would be to transfer the bacteria’s response to light into a property that could build up cellulose into a hard material, amongst other processes.

Should they become master manipulators of these bacteria, the team imagines products that could grow themselves. One idea they already have in mind is using the bacteria present in yogurt to create containers that could yield a tasty beverage, or one that could repair or regenerate itself. Treating these objects as living material, the team is focusing on a way to encode properties into their cellular makeup.

The research may be at its infancy, but ability to harness the auto-regenerating properties of bacteria may be just a few experiments away.

+ IDEO Via Fast Company