We took our market research, and all of the work we have done previously to improve our project, working on the data we collected from the surveys, the interviews and the data extraction. Moreover we took in consideration, the professional feedback we received from the fablabs and makerspaces owners to improve our biomaterial 3D printer design every step of the way.
Aside from the market research, we seek advice from professionals linked to our project and interviewed them to discuss our project and asking them the right questions.
Finally, we produced a study about fundamental research, to understand how our work would impact various scientific field, expanding from synthetic biology.
Fablab and Makerspace community
We decided to enter and discover the makerspace and fablab community by investigating first-hand as we went to more than 10 fablabs and interviewed the owners as well as the regular customers. We conducted the interviews with the same standard questionnaire in order to have valid data we can work on to make our market research.
We shot over 4 hours of footage, and reduced it to a video of 18 minutes, that summarize well the challenges facing the Fablab and Makerspace community as well as the use of a 3D printer.
- Here are the main limits/drawbacks they saw:
- the need of an expert to operate and maintain the machine and the cell culture
- the definition of the prints might be lower than regular printers, so the quality wouldn’t be as good
- the ratio financial investment / actual use. It’s an expensive machine and it’s not obvious that the general public would use it a lot
- the potential difficulties to extract the product from the media
- the bacterial resistance to light, since they will be exposed a lot and it could be toxic to them
- the ability of the bacteria to secrete in a controlled, homogeneous manner
- the need to control the temperature in the machine
- the applications would be few and very specific, so only a small number of people would actually want to use it.
Thanks to our primary research, we listened to all of the concerns that was mentioned by the general public as well as professionals. Safety issue was the most important one. Therefore we integrated a cell lysis system in our design. It is easy to activate the lysis in the cell and kill it.
We wrote a safety dossier regarding our meeting with the Dr.Namorado, to insure our subject is in compliance with the EU’s Horizon 2020 ethical criteria. Here is the link to the Safety Dossier
To improve our work, we talked to scientists and professionals that gave us a real input on our project. All of the interviews were very informative, and most importantly gave us an opportunity to explore further in detail our work, thanks to the advice of external people, giving us a new eye on the project.
Alain Le Méhauté
Alain Le Mehaute is a french Physicist, Engineer and Mathematicians who was the first person to file a patent for stereolithography, the cousin of 3D printing. Unfortunately, the company he worked for didn’t believe in the potential of the invention and withdrew the patent without his assent. Far from being resentful, Alain explained us over a Skype interview that this was just another example of the inefficacy of French hierarchy which often prioritize short-sighted and individualistic career goals over long term innovative vision. Alain also explains that, although he was conscious of the commercial potential of his invention, he wanted to develop it at the time to bring proof to his theories on fractal geometries. This interview gave us a glimpse of the potential of our control system. Given where 3D printing stands today, Medusa will probably find applications we cannot yet predict.
Andrew Pelling is a canadian scientist from the university of Ottawa, and the director of the Pelling Lab. He is focusing on augmented biology, his dream being redefining the limits of biology. He’s currently working on making human ears using apple. We talked to him about our project, and more specifically about our biomaterials. As we are working with non polluting, biocompatible materials, the fact that we could do anything with them drew his attention. He’s really interested in DIY bio products and what we could do with them. And gave us great advice for potential applications, as well as design of the printer itself.
John Cumbers is a synthetic biologist and the founder of the Brown University iGEM team. He worked for NASA Ames and now is he the founder of SynBioBeta. We talked to him about the idea of taking our biomaterial 3D printer to space, this is an exciting thought for us, as we thought that if we want to colonise Mars, let’s not start polluting right away. Although he warned us about the difficulties of growing bacteria in space. We also asked him advices about how to launch a startup because of his position as founder of SynBioBeta, and among every thing he said, one drew our attention: “Just do it”.
Dan Widmaier is the CEO of Bolt Threads, a company working on producing silk fiber by replicating the process used by spiders. Spider silk has amazing properties such as high tensile strength, elasticity, durability and softness. We talked to him during the Hello Tomorrow summit in Paris, and discussed our biomaterials mostly, but also the cell-free system. Indeed, he was interested in our cell-free system, however he made some comments. While it is a great experimentation and prototyping technology, it is somewhat limited for mass market commercial applications.
Anne Meyer’s lab recently created an additive-layer bacterial 3D printer with a affordable modified 3D printer. Anne is interested in using her printer for both creating biomaterials with new physical properties like graphene and for research applications like studying biofilm. Our interview with Anne gave us great insight on how bioprinter will soon find meaningful real-world applications.
Optogenetics is closely linked to neurology as activating individual neurones by shining lights allow for a fine resolution mapping of the function of the nervous system.
Conditions of the microenvironment are key to determining cell fate and small changes result in large variation of the morphology of a mature organism. Although large advances have been made in the field of developmental biology thanks to higher resolution imaging, a lot remains to be understood about the underlying molecular mechanisms and signal diffusion interactions. Being able to dictate specific 3D locations of activation of genes determining developmental processes would allow a more comprehensive overview of each gene and the mechanisms of interactions between them.
Hence, we thought that by using our tools to light activate certain cells within an organism for targeted gene expression, we could observe the effect of the signal at different spatial resolutions. Furthermore, the field of developmental biology is spans all organisms and is studied in depth in a large variety of model organisms. The modularity of our tools allow for them to be implemented in many different organisms.
Going to Space
Colonising and travelling to different planets and maybe one day different solar systems is one of manhoods dream. Medusa also likes to dream big and we believe that applying 3D control in synthetic biology for space is crucial to success. To build materials in space, it would be very useful to use microbial cultures, as they could easily be transported and then grown into specific structures with lights and space resources. They would be produced in bioreactors that would shield them from hostile environments, such as the radiation and - voila! Space could be built up sustainably using Medusa and we wouldn’t have to transport large building blocks from earth. We shared our ambition with John Cumbers, who was intrigued about our project. He explained in details the different parameters that have to be taken into account if you are thinking of growing microorganism in space.
Fermentation and Bioproduction
Speeding up Microbial production in industry remains one of the main challenges in bio-technological industry. One of the problems influencing this is the lack of control of enzyme diffusion within the cell and having high enough concentration of enzymes. By applying 3D control of enzymes within a cell using Medusa’s RNA organelle, we can create local concentrations of enzymes which could vastly speed up enzymatic pathways of production leading to higher yields and faster production.
Medusa’s light control could also be applied in Industry, where different processes could be installed in a single bioreactor using modular light patterns, this would allow for more efficiency and multi-level processes to be organised into one space.
Co-cultures have become one of synthetic biology’s most promising methods for reducing metabolic loads and creating large networks. To best understand interactions between two populations and spatial interactions between them, we propose using Medusa’s optogenetic control to spatially activate expression in certain areas of certain strains to best understand interactions of co-cultures. We talked to the Imperial College 2016 iGEM team about our project and our ambition to study Co-Cultures, they were very interested in our project and they shared precious information concerning their data.