Principal Investigators: Diana Gentry, NASA Ames Research Center, SGE, Ashley Micks, Stanford University, Lynn J. Rothschild (POC), NASA Ames Research Center, SGEThe Problem
Many complex, biologically-derived materials have extremely useful properties (think wood or silk), but are unsuitable for space-related applications due to production, manufacturing, or processing limitations. Large-scale ecosystem-based production, such as raising and harvesting trees for wood, is impractical in a self-contained habitat such as a space station or potential Mars colony. Manufacturing requirements, such as the specialized equipment needed to harvest and process cotton, add too much upmass to be practical.The Vision
Cells in nature are already highly specialized for making complex biological materials on a micro scale. We envision combining these strengths with the recently emergent technologies of synthetic biology and additive manufacturing to create 3D-structured arrays of cells that are bioengineered to secrete different materials in a specified three-dimensional pattern.Applications
If successful, this application would dramatically expand manufacturing capabilities both on Earth and in space in several ways:
We are using a custom microdispensing setup to deposit two types of cells. Each cell type is engineered to secrete a different protein. The cells will be deposited on a protein-binding substrate in a simple grid pattern. After the cells and substrate have been removed, the resulting two-material protein grid will remain as a proof of concept of this technique.