A research team based out of Tufts University has developed a printing system that could have a huge impact on medicine and other sciences. The idea of applying bacteria laced ink to surfaces for various reasons has been around for some time, but the heat-sensitive nature of the bacteria has always proven a barrier.
However, the team at Tufts found that using silk proteins for the ink solves the issue. The silk proteins provide a “cocoon” for the bacteria, antibiotics, or whatever else the ink is intended to deliver, protecting them from the printing process, and allowing them to be applied to a variety of surfaces.
By using these proteins, they were able to create ink that can be used a variety of ways. One example is the printing of the word “contaminated” in blue ink on surgical gloves. When the gloves come into contact with a contaminant, such as the E. coli used in the test, the ink changes color from blue to red. This is not merely color changing fabric, but a change in the ink itself, possible because of the bacteria embedded within it, which detects the E. coli and reacts to it.
Other suggested uses would be antibiotic laced bandages, which could adapt to infections as they arise. There are a lot of possibilities ahead. So far, the team has performed a variety of tests, but they have only done so using a single ink cartridge at a time. In the future, they suggest that using multiple cartridges could result in more useful items. Each cartridge would contain one kind of ink, but using them in conjunction could allow for applying multiple benefits to a single item. So a pair of gloves could detect a variety of bacteria, turning different colors for each one. Or a smart bandage could release antibiotics targeted to specific infections as they are detected in the bloodstream.