Kombucha Generate Tough Functional Materials

Engineers have developed a brand-new way to create tough, practical materials utilizing a mix of bacteria and yeast similar to the “kombucha mom” used to ferment tea. Credit: Chenfu Hsing

A symbiotic culture of specialized yeast and germs can create difficult products able to carry out a variety of functions.

Engineers at MIT and Imperial College London have actually developed a new method to produce tough, functional products utilizing a mixture of bacteria and yeast comparable to the “kombucha mom” utilized to ferment tea.

Using this mix, also called a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of germs and yeast), the researchers had the ability to produce cellulose ingrained with enzymes that can carry out a variety of functions, such as sensing environmental pollutants. They likewise revealed that they could integrate yeast directly into the material, producing “living products” that might be utilized to cleanse water or to make “wise” packaging materials that can detect damage.

” We visualize a future where varied materials might be grown in the house or in local production centers, using biology instead of resource-intensive central production,” says Timothy Lu, an MIT associate teacher of electrical engineering and computer technology and of biological engineering.

Lu and Tom Ellis, a professor of bioengineering at Imperial College London, are the senior authors of the paper, which was published on January 11, 2021, in Nature Products The paper’s lead authors are MIT college student Tzu-Chieh Tang and Cambridge University postdoc Charlie Gilbert.

Division of labor

A number of years ago, Lu’s lab established a method to use E. coli to generate biofilms embedded with materials such as gold nanowires.

They considered creating a microbe population similar to a kombucha mom, which is a mixture of specific types of germs and yeast. These fermentation factories, which generally include one types of germs and several yeast species, produce ethanol, cellulose, and acetic acid, which offers kombucha tea its unique taste.


Utilizing germs and yeast similar to those discovered in kombucha, MIT engineers can develop “living products.” Credit: Tzu-Chieh (Zijay) Tang

Most of the wild yeast stress used for fermentation are hard to genetically customize, so the researchers changed them with a stress of lab yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae

Due to the fact that the scientists used a laboratory stress of yeast, they might craft the cells to do any of the things that lab yeast can do– for example, producing enzymes that glow in the dark, or sensing pollutants in the environment. The yeast can likewise be configured so that they can break down contaminants after finding them.

Tough Cellulose Material

Researchers raise a sheet of their material, a tough cellulose that can be embedded with enzymes or living cells. Credit: Tzu-Chieh (Zijay) Tang

On the other hand, the germs in the culture produce massive quantities of hard cellulose to serve as a scaffold. The researchers developed their system so that they can control whether the yeast themselves, or simply the enzymes that they produce, are integrated into the cellulose structure. It takes only a few days to grow the product, and if left enough time, it can thicken to occupy a space as large as a bathtub.

” We think this is a great system that is really inexpensive and really easy to make in huge amounts,” Tang says. “It’s at least a thousand times more material than the E.coli system.”

Simply add tea

In another version, they utilized a strain of yeast that produces a glowing protein called luciferase when exposed to blue light.

The culture can be grown in normal yeast culture medium, which the researchers utilized for most of their research studies, but they have also revealed that it can grow in tea with sugar. The researchers envision that the cultures could be customized for individuals to utilize at home for growing water filters or other useful products.

” Pretty much everyone can do this in their kitchen area or at home,” Tang says.

Referral: “Living products with programmable performances grown from crafted microbial co-cultures” by Charlie Gilbert, Tzu-Chieh Tang, Wolfgang Ott, Brandon A. Dorr, William M. Shaw, George L. Sun, Timothy K. Lu and Tom Ellis, 11 January 2021, Nature Materials
DOI: 10.1038/ s41563-020-00857 -5

The research study was moneyed, in part, by the U.S. Army Research Study Workplace, the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, and the MIT-MISTI MIT-Imperial College London Seed Fund. Tang was supported by the MIT J-WAFS Fellowship.


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