3D bioprinting to be tested in agricultural research

Dr. Luciano Paulino da Silva
Dr. Luciano Paulino da Silva

In the Laboratory of Nanobiotechnology (LNANO) of Embrapa Genetic Resources and Biotechnology, in Brasília, DF (Brazil) mimicking nature and manufacturing leaves, seeds and even more complex structures – of animals, plants, or microorganisms – could soon become reality.

The recent approval of a project will allow the LNANO of Embrapa to test biological activities in a 3D environment, enabling the team to do research in a more ‘realistic’ way. The technique is one of the most recent innovations in the field of biotechnology and synthetic biology, and LNANO will be one of the pioneers in Brazil.

“In traditional cultivation methods, cells are deposited in flat layers (2D) in culture microplates, forming a single layer for biological activity testing,” says Embrapa researcher Luciano Paulino da Silva who is leading the project “We intend to develop 3-Dimensional frameworks containing cells as well as biological structures that allow us to mimic the conditions we would have within a three-dimensional structure found in living organisms.”

According to Luciano, in traditional cultures the cells generally present themselves in a disorganized or self-assembled way, since they are outside of their real space environment. In many cases, success is achieved in the in vitro stages, but in vivo research fails. “By re-creating environments closer to the reality of living organisms, biological activity tests will become more accurate and realistic,” Luciano tells.

Applications of 3D bio fabrication

According to the researcher, various sectors can benefit from the applications of 3D bio fabrication, from tests for the pharmaceutical industry to the mimicking of biological structures that allow – for example – the creation of artificial organs for transplantation. In the case of agricultural research, an example of application is the so-called ‘biofilms’; a set of aggregated micro-organisms that are associated with numerous infections.

Another example is the possibility to rebuild seeds with great resemblance to natural ones. In the animal area, applications range from the creation of biological structures for the delivery of bioactive principles, such as vaccines, drugs, and hormones, to the manufacture of structures similar to a uterus to mature embryos of animals for a longer time before implanting them into the receptors.

Printing 3D structures

The researchers, students, and collaborators will build models in the form of three-dimensional archives in CAD software. From the digital design, the researchers will seek biological materials compatible with the technique to print the 3D structure that will house the cells. At this stage, mimetics of plant and animal tissues, and colonies of micro-organisms may be produced.

The bioprinters will also allow the addition of culture media, as nutrients to the cells, from the stage of bioprinting to that of the final bio fabrication using bioreactors and maturogens such as growth factors and cell adhesion molecules. And in addition to the laboratory part, the plan is to transfer the technologies developed for the productive sector, the training of students of higher education in the practice of 3D bioprinting, and the diffusion of knowledge generated to the society.

With the first prototypes ready, analyses will be made to evaluate if the structures are ready to participate in biological essays in 3D. “By the time we can master the multiplication model of different cell types, we can build more complex structures, such as plant and animal organs, and even create structures that begin to function as if they were a living organism,” Luciano concludes.

For more information, please visit the institutional homepage of Embrapa or contact Dr. Luciano Paulino da Silva on LinkedIn or via email: luciano.paulino[at]embrapa.br.