Scientists at MIT have developed a unique material that contains living, genetically engineered cells that fluoresce in the presence of specific chemicals. So far the potential of the technology has been demonstrated in gloves and bandages that light up when a certain compound is present in the exudate they come in contact with.
The material is a hydrogel consisting of mostly water, an important factor that helps to make sure the cells within the hydrogel do not die from exposure. Because the air can penetrate through the hydrogel, the cells are kept supplied with the oxygen they need. Finally, after placing the cells, the material is soaked in a nutrient bath, allowing the cells to be fed for a few days while trapped within the material.
The living cells are engineeered E. coli bacteria that are pre-programmed to fluoresce when they meet a specific chemical. A number of different versions of the bacteria can be integrated into the same material, each glowing depending on the chemical they come in contact with.
There are a host of possible applications for this technology, including detecting certain diseases in patients, monitoring of difficult wounds, and warning clinicians when they may have been exposed to a dangerous pathogen.
From the study abstract in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
Communication between different bacterial strains and with the environment is achieved via diffusion of molecules in the hydrogel. The high stretchability and robustness of the hydrogel–elastomer hybrids prevent leakage of cells from the living materials and devices, even under large deformations. We show functions and applications of stretchable living sensors that are responsive to multiple chemicals in a variety of form factors, including skin patches and gloves-based sensors. We further develop a quantitative model that couples transportation of signaling molecules and cellular response to aid the design of future living materials and devices.
Study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Stretchable living materials and devices with hydrogel–elastomer hybrids hosting programmed cells…