3D printed biocoral has surpassed its natural ancestor

Corals and algae are in close symbiosis with each other: the body of the coral is home to the algae, and these, in turn, produce sugars that the host feeds on. But what is curious is that the biocoral, specially printed on a 3D printer, turned out to be even more favorable for algae than their natural ally. Scientists now have the opportunity to address coral extinction while providing a valuable source of biofuel.

Researchers from Cambridge and the University of California, San Diego have developed synthetic coral biocompatible with algae. They used fast photopolymer bioprinting technology to create objects with micrometer precision in minutes.

The printed biocoral is a "coral tissue" skeleton. It is made of PEGDA polymer gel with the addition of cellulose nanocrystals. The tissue itself consists of a polymer hydrogel based on gelatin "GelMA" - it combines with living cells of algae and the same cellulose.

Thanks to the nanocrystals and the porous structure of the skeleton, biocoral is much better than real one at absorbing light and directing it to algae. In fact, a microalgae, Marinichlorella kaistiae, implanted in an artificial polyp, has settled on it 100 times more densely than in a natural coral.

This technology could be further developed for use in more efficient and compact mechanisms for growing algae for biofuel. But most importantly, it can help slow down the death of algae and the global extinction of corals.