Research

Embrapa to test biological activity of Cerrado plants with 3D printers

The Cerrado region in Brazil is a vast tropical savanna encompassing forest, wood and park habitats across 2,045,064 square km.

In a new project from Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation Embrapa, researchers are working to unlock the potential bioactivity of Cerrado plants through the use of 3D printers, making tissue and organ models for drug testing.

In Brazil, the Cerrado region is second only to the Amazon in size, accounting for 21 percent of the country's land area. Cerrado boundary image by Undark.org
In Brazil, the Cerrado region is second only to the Amazon in size, accounting for 21 percent of the country’s land area. Cerrado boundary image by Undark.org

Nurture by nature

In the same respect as algae, or shrimp extracts, Cerrado plants have natural properties that may be appropriate for supporting the structure and growth of living cells.

The challenge with materials made from such extracts is to rapidly fabricate them as a 3D form.

Dr. Luciano Paulino Silva, who will be leading the 3D bioprinting research at Embrapa, explains, “In traditional cultivation methods, cells are deposited in flat layers (2D) in culture microplates, forming a single layer for biological activity testing.”

“With 3D bioprinting it will be possible to reproduce some of the three-dimensional conditions of living organisms.”

Dr. Luciano Paulino Silva will be leading the research at Embrapa Genetic Resources and Biotechnology's Laboratory of Nanobiotechnology (LNANO) Photo via Embrapa
Dr. Luciano Paulino Silva will be leading the research at Embrapa Genetic Resources and Biotechnology’s Laboratory of Nanobiotechnology (LNANO) Photo via Embrapa

Dr. Silva’s existing research includes a paper looking at the reaction of wasp venom on mammal cells to understand ways to treat infectious diseases, and an investigation of anticancer peptides.

Making “cities for microbes”

One goal of the project is to create a biofilm of living cells.

Known as “cities for microbes”, biofilms are defined as “any group of microorganisms in which cells stick to each other and often also to a surface.” In this sense, cells attached to 3D printed scaffolds could be considered biofilms.

The 5 stages of biofilm development. Image by D. Davis via D. Monroe "Looking for Chinks in the Armor of Bacterial Biofilms".
The 5 stages of biofilm development. Image by D. Davis via D. Monroe “Looking for Chinks in the Armor of Bacterial Biofilms”.

Mastering multiplication

In addition to biofilms, 3D printed tissue and organ imitations will be studied in vitro to understand the activity of compounds and biologically arranged nanosystems.

Dr. Silva concludes, “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.”

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Featured image: Vegetation in the Cerrado savanna, Brazil. Photo via Câmara dos Deputados