Bionic 3D printed corals

Daniel Wangpraseurt, Shangting You, Farooq Azam, Gianni Jacucci, Olga Gaidarenko, Mark Hildebrand, Michael Kühl, Alison G Smith, Matthew P Davey, Alyssa Smith, Dimitri D Deheyn, Shaochen Chen, Silvia Vignolini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)
103 Downloads (Pure)


Corals have evolved as optimized photon augmentation systems, leading to space-efficient microalgal growth and outstanding photosynthetic quantum efficiencies. Light attenuation due to algal self-shading is a key limiting factor for the upscaling of microalgal cultivation. Coral-inspired light management systems could overcome this limitation and facilitate scalable bioenergy and bioproduct generation. Here, we develop 3D printed bionic corals capable of growing microalgae with high spatial cell densities of up to 109 cells mL-1. The hybrid photosynthetic biomaterials are produced with a 3D bioprinting platform which mimics morphological features of living coral tissue and the underlying skeleton with micron resolution, including their optical and mechanical properties. The programmable synthetic microenvironment thus allows for replicating both structural and functional traits of the coral-algal symbiosis. Our work defines a class of bionic materials that is capable of interacting with living organisms and can be exploited for applied coral reef research and photobioreactor design.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1748 (2020)
Number of pages8
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2020


  • 7ref2021


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