Soil is home to billions of microbes, who make life above ground possible and produce many chemicals that we use in daily life, such as modern-day antibiotics. Inspired by a tool called the iChip (Ling, Schneider et al, Nature, 2015),. Sharma creates small chambers in a microscope slide, packs the chambers with soil bacteria mixed into a substrate called “transparent soil” (Downie et al, PLoS One, 2012), puts a membrane on either side of the slide so that nutrients can get in and wastes can get out but the bacteria stay in place, places the slide into the 3D printed device, and buries the entire apparatus in soil. Bacteria live, grow, and interact with each other in the transparent soil matrix, and when the slide is taken out, they can be visualized with a microscope in the transparent soil environment. 3D printing allowed the Shank Lab to quickly and inexpensively test an existing design, discover ways to improve the design for their application, and create a new tool suited to answer a novel research question.
-Elizabeth Shank and Kriti Sharma, Shank Lab, Department of Biology