3D-printed corals could improve bioenergy and help coral reefs

April 09, 2020

Researchers from Cambridge University and University of California San Diego have 3D printed coral-inspired structures that are capable of growing dense populations of microscopic algae. Their results, reported in the journal Nature Communications, open the door to new bio-inspired materials and their applications for coral conservation.

In the ocean, corals and algae have an intricate symbiotic relationship. The coral provides a host for the algae, while the algae produce sugars to the coral through photosynthesis. This relationship is responsible for one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on Earth, the coral reef.

"Corals are highly efficient at collecting and using light," said first author Dr Daniel Wangpraseurt, a Marie Curie Fellow from Cambridge's Department of Chemistry. "In our lab, we're looking for methods to copy and mimic these strategies from nature for commercial applications."

Wangpraseurt and his colleagues 3D printed coral structures and used them as incubators for algae growth. They tested various types of microalgae and found growth rates were 100x higher than in standard liquid growth mediums.

To create the intricate structures of natural corals, the researchers used a rapid 3D bioprinting technique originally developed for the bioprinting of artificial liver cells.

The coral-inspired structures were highly efficient at redistributing light, just like natural corals. Only biocompatible materials were used to fabricate the 3D printed bionic corals.

"We developed an artificial coral tissue and skeleton with a combination of polymer gels and hydrogels doped with cellulose nanomaterials to mimic the optical properties of living corals," said Dr Silvia Vignolini, who led the research. "Cellulose is an abundant biopolymer; it is excellent at scattering light and we used it to optimise delivery of light into photosynthetic algae."

The team used an optical analogue to ultrasound, called optical coherence tomography, to scan living corals and utilise the models for their 3D printed designs. The custom-made 3D bioprinter uses light to print coral micro-scale structures in seconds. The printed coral copies natural coral structures and light-harvesting properties, creating an artificial host-microenvironment for the living microalgae.

"By copying the host microhabitat, we can also use our 3D bioprinted corals as a model system for the coral-algal symbiosis, which is urgently needed to understand the breakdown of the symbiosis during coral reef decline," said Wangpraseurt. "There are many different applications for our new technology. We have recently created a company, called mantaz, that uses coral-inspired light-harvesting approaches to cultivate algae for bioproducts in developing countries. We hope that our technique will be scalable so it can have a real impact on the algal biosector and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for coral reef death."
-end-
This study was funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the European Research Council, the David Phillips Fellowship, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Carlsberg Foundation and the Villum Foundation.

University of Cambridge

Related Coral Reef Articles from Brightsurf:

Was Hong Kong once a coral reef paradise?
Researchers from The University of Hong Kong's School of Biological Sciences and The Swire Institute of Marine Science, have for the first time investigated the historical presence of coral communities in the Greater Bay Area, revealing a catastrophic range collapse and loss of diversity that occurred in the last several decades.

Angels in disguise: Angelfishes hybridize more than any other coral reef species
A new study highlights the remarkably high incidence of and tendency toward hybridisation in the angelfish family (even between divergent species), more so than in any other group of coral reef fishes.

Dimethylsulfoniopropionate concentration in coral reef invertebrates
New research highlights the effect of benthic assemblages on the sulfur metabolism of coral and giant clam species.

Meeting multiple management goals to maximize coral reef health
While management strategies can be effective at achieving reef fisheries' conservation goals, a new study reveals how increased human pressure makes conservation of coral reef biodiversity truly difficult to achieve.

Ocean deoxygenation: A silent driver of coral reef demise?
Authors of a new study published in Nature Climate Change say the threat of ocean deoxygenation has largely been ignored and asks the question: 'Are our coastal coral reefs slowly suffocating?'

Scientists say it is time to save the red sea's coral reef
An international group of researchers led by Karine Kleinhaus, MD, of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), calls upon UNESCO to declare the Red Sea's 4000 km of coral reef as a Marine World Heritage Site and recommends additional measures critical for the reef's survival. the study is published in Frontiers in Marine Sciences.

Sounds of the past give new hope for coral reef restoration
Young fish can be drawn to degraded coral reefs by loudspeakers playing the sounds of healthy reefs, according to new research published in Nature Communications.

Healthy mangroves help coral reef fisheries under climate stress
Healthy mangroves can help fight the consequences of climate change on coral reef fisheries, according to a University of Queensland-led study.

Great Barrier Reef island coral decline
A long-term study of coral cover on island groups of the Great Barrier Reef has found declines of between 40 and 50 percent of live, hard corals at inshore island groups during the past few decades.

Longest coral reef survey to date reveals major changes in Australia's Great Barrier Reef
An in-depth look at Australia's Great Barrier Reef over the past 91 years concludes that since 1928 intertidal communities have experienced major phase-shifts as a result of local and global environmental change, leaving few signs that reefs will return to their initial state in the near future.

Read More: Coral Reef News and Coral Reef Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.