Producing Medicines and Chemicals, Anytime, Anywhere | AIChE

Producing Medicines and Chemicals, Anytime, Anywhere


A hydrogel platform embedded with microbes is allowing chemical engineers at the Univ. of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) to produce medicines and chemicals nearly anywhere. These portable factories could provide people in remote villages and soldiers on military assignments with valuable drugs in the absence of pharmacies or proper medical facilities.

The hydrogel platform houses bacteria that have been bioengineered to overproduce certain compounds. More than one microbial strain can live within the gel, so the platform can produce several different compounds at once. Additionally, the bacteria-embedded hydrogel can be 3D printed into constructs, such as scaffolds, that maintain live cells. Users can produce desired chemicals and pharmaceuticals simply by placing the gel into culture media and allowing the bacteria to grow and make compounds. The microbe-laden hydrogels can be used many times and preserved through freeze-drying.

The bacteria-embedded hydrogel is a form of immobilized cell technology, which encapsulates microbes within a polymeric matrix to produce chemicals. Other immbobilzed cell techniques commonly use polymers such as calcium alginate and various polysaccharides to house bacteria. However, the polysaccharides’ crosslinks are sensitive to the presence of charge-bearing products. Close proximity to such...

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