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Scientists 3-D Print Tiny Cages That Imprison Bacteria

Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have figured out how to make structures – like houses or cages – that are small enough to corral bacterial cells. The enclosures can be built in any shape and are 3-D printed using a modified laser, the team reported Oct. 7 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But instead of facilitating microbial cage-fighting matches, the microscopic structures should help scientists learn how infections spread and how bacteria talk with one another – a complex process involved in everything from population regulation to toxin release to the development of drug resistance.

To cage cells, scientists first select a microbe to work with. For example, they may use Staphylococcus aureus, which causes skin infections and can mutate into the antibiotic-resistant superbug known as MRSA. Next, they suspend the bacteria in a warm, gelatin-based solution that contains light-sensitive molecules. Then they cool the mixture, which solidifies into a Jell-O like substance and traps bacteria where they are.

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