3D printing has many versatile uses, but the two most important uses are both done using biological components: human organ printing and 3D printing of food.

The ethical question that most often occurs when scientists and researchers look into creating new organs is stem cells. Embryonic stem cells mean the destruction of an embryo for their harvesting, but the debate over whether this is ethical or not continues on between many people. But what if there was a way to create organs and tissue without having to harm or destroy anything, living or not? The future is here, and that future is 3D bioprinting.  With 3D printers we can print out bones and organs and everything in between. It’s a big step up from where we were a few years ago. A friend of mine had a 3D printer just shortly after they had been available to the public. The best he could do was print tiny plastic snowmen, or cube puzzles that could twist and spell out different words. At the time I remember thinking that that was truly amazing. Something from within the computer, a simple string of codes, could be manifested into something you can physically hold. Now beyond that, we have the capabilities to create life.

On the opposite spectrum of 3D bioprinting from creating new organs and tissues is creating food. What benefit does this have for us? Well maybe not such a huge benefit for us down here on Earth right now, but for astronauts, this could be huge benefit. NASA is in studies to create 3D printed food to allow astronauts to do just that. They’ve acknowledged that with the use of 3D printers in space, astronauts will have the ability to do new missions that were otherwise impossible. The printers that they would have aboard would be able to print food, tools, and maybe even more spacecraft. But could printing food eventually be something everyone with a printer could have access to? Will it replace our McDonalds and Burger Kings? If you’re familiar with the star trek series, you know what food replicators are, and that all it takes to get a cup of hot tea is simply request it after having programmed the computer to know the recipe. Is this where we’re headed? Well apparently if you truly wanted to try 3D printed food for yourself, you already can try it. You can literally taste the future.

But the next step with printing food? Printing food that can be used for growth. One Dutch Industrial design student, Chloé Rutzerveld, is working on doing just that. She’s created biscuits which have plants within them. The base of food used to create the biscuit acts as the nutrients for the plants within the biscuit. These plants grow over the course of a few days, and then the biscuit is ready to be eaten, with its flavors different from those of a plain biscuit. By combining both the growth element within food that is already produced, Rutzerveld has created “a new chapter for food printing”. But could we take this innovation to solve problems with food in both our countries and others with hunger issues?

Rutzerveld’s biscuit matrix with plant growth

I should hope that in fact, yes, we can use this invention to help with the food crisis we have in this world. If we could 3D print food like this and wait for it to grow using nothing than the biscuit itself, perhaps we can generate tons of food in countries with droughts or little to no land for growing crops. Perhaps we can mass produce these with more enriched nutrients combined into them to help get essential vitamins and nutrients into people who are severely lacking them. Honestly, I’d like to believe our options are limitless when it comes to the problems of hunger we can solve.

With bioprinting, we may have the option to solve our problems much more easily than before. We can create new organs, prosthetics, and tissue for patients who need it. And perhaps we can do it without having to destroy more embryos. And with food, we can perhaps finally solve world hunger, although I think that may be many, many years down the road. But who knows. Today we have just a few options, but if the technology keeps developing as rapidly as it already has and people can keep innovating, soon our options may be completely limitless.

Other interesting reads:

3D bioprinting of tissues and organs

Researchers Develop 3D Bioprinting Method that Produces Uniform Blocks of Embryonic Stem Cells

How To Get 3D Printing Into Your Kitchen – Food Printing

3D Printed Airplane Food: Tomorrow’s Airline Meals?

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