The Research Group on Synthetic Biology for Biomedical Applications at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, has designed a cellular device capable of computing by printing cells on paper. For the first time, they have developed a living device that could be used outside the laboratory without a specialist, and it could be produced on an industrial scale at low cost. The study is published in Nature Communications and was carried out by Sira Mogas-Díez, Eva Gonzalez-Flo and Javier Macía.

So far, cellular devices have been developed that must operate in the laboratory, for a limited time, under specific conditions, and must be handled by a specialist in molecular biology. Now, a team of researchers from Pompeu Fabra University has developed new technology to ‘print’ cellular devices on paper that can be used outside the laboratory.

Interestingly, they use ‘ink’ of different cell types with nutrients to ‘draw’ the circuits. The cells remain trapped in the paper, alive and functional, and there, they continue growing and are able to release signals that travel through the paper and reach other cells. The reason for doing this on paper (or other surfaces such as fabrics) is principally practical; it is cheap and easy to adapt to industrial use, and large quantities could be produced at a very low cost. ”