3D PrintingApplicationsFood for thought

3D Printing is Helping Us Slow Down Extinction

By April 11, 2017 No Comments

More animal species are going extinct at one time (now) than ever before.

Human advancement is one of the reasons it’s happening. But as this article in National Geographic points out, human advancement, namely technology, can be one of the ways to we save them.

The topic of the article mostly references how smartphones (and all the apps they include) are helping scientists track species. By knowing exactly where endangered species are located, conservationists can better manage their efforts.

But other technological advances are helping conservation. And 3D printing is one of them.

3D Printed Meat: Ew or Yum?

You’re probably thinking, “I don’t eat any endangered animals. I eat beef and chicken.”

But the meat animals you do consume need to eat, too. Increasingly, more of that food and pasture is coming from deforested lands. Livestock also requires large amounts of water.

(And, unfortunately, that cheese you love may be equally at fault. Sorry.)

We like our meat, though. The average person eats 75 pounds of meat per year.Becoming completely vegetarian probably isn’t going to happen.

So companies like Modern Meadow are developing alternatives.

We already have the technology to print muscle and skin tissue. Doctors have been 3D printing these tissues for patients like transplant recipients and burn victims for years.

Ultimately, Modern Meadow wants to use that technology to create animal protein that doesn’t require livestock production.

But don’t worry – you don’t have to make that decision just yet. Modern Meadows has barely begun Phase 1 and told the Department of Agriculture: “We anticipate that this Phase I application will result in a macroscopic size (~2 cm x 1 cm x 0.5 mm) edible prototype.”

Confusing Poachers and Saving Rhinos

If you don’t know what ivory is, it’s elephant tusk. And poachers often kill these animals to get the ivory from them.

Elephants aren’t the only ones in danger. Rhino horn, pangolin scales, and the body parts of many others are other valuable commodities.

The result is fast-approaching extinction for many of these animals (and some subspecies have already been declared extinct, like the black rhino).

How can 3D printing help? By flooding the market with 3D printed fakes (like the rhino horn Pembient is trying to produce), potentially devaluing the stuff overall.

Of course, fake is the wrong word. Genetically, these products would look exactly the same as their natural counterparts.

Fur That Does Way More Than Keep You Warm

Most of us don’t – and never will – own fur anything.

It’s just too expensive. Too hard to maintain. Just not practical

That being said, the fur industry still does very well. (Fur sales increased 7.3% from 2013 to 2014.)

But what if we could replace real animal fur with something that looks just like it, keeps us just as warm, and is even programmable?

The Fur Information Council of America states that fur sales grow because fur has “unique tactile and visual characteristics.” 3D printed fur has the potential to duplicate these “unique” characteristics exactly.

These MIT researchers have figured out how to print artificial hair and they’re working on a variety of textures, which includes fake fur. This technology is still very new, but they’re certainly having fun learning all of the ways they can manipulate these individual fibers – which includes turning fibers into actuators and sensors.

After doing all that, imitating fox fur can’t be that hard.

Taking the Rats Out of the Lab

Imagine a lab.

Your first thought is probably of lots of sterile stainless steel and plastic, test tubes, and white rats locked into numerous small cages. Labs and rats just go together. We’ve even equated “lab rats” with “test subjects.”

But the life of a lab rat isn’t great. Yes, they’re taken care of. They have food, water, and shelter.

They also may be made sick, maimed, or even killed by the research being conducted.

We’ve already discussed above how human tissue is being 3D printed. The same technology being used to create human skin that can be grafted onto burn victims could also replace lab rats in studies.

Instead of testing chemical ingredients on rats, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, and dogs, companies 3D print batches of synthetic skin generated from real human skin cells to test reactions to chemical compounds.

The benefits of this 3D printed skin go beyond saving the animals from the pain of testing. They also reduce costs. Companies can produce as much or as little synthetic skin as they need, without having to provide the feed, housing, or care needed to maintain the lab animals.

Technology that Reduces Our Impact on Animals

3D printing allows us to be innovative in ways other manufacturing methods cannot. So it’s nice to see these companies turning that innovation toward something that does good – while also demonstrating exactly how cool 3D printing is.