p-Paper: the story of paper grown from bacteria

The bacterium Gluconoacetobacter xylinus, naturally produces films of bacterial cellulose, identical in structure to the plant based material. Cellulose is also the major constituent of paper but here it is mainly obtained from wood pulp. The environmental impact of wood-based paper production is significant, it having a number of adverse effects on the environment including, the need for tree monoculture, deforestation, and air, water and land pollution.

Bacteria like the species described above offer an alternative, and possibly more sustainable means of paper production, but one of the limitations of this approach is in the low yields of cellulose produced,  and its natural properties. At C-MOULD, we have isolated and characterised a hyper-cellulose producing variant of  Gluconoactebacter xylinus called GXCELL which produces much greater amounts of cellulose than other strains. Please see the comparison below.

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A thin and fragile cellulose film produced by a normal strain of Gluconoacetobacter xylinus

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A thick sheet of cellulose produced by GXCELL

 

When the mat of bacterial cellulose produced by GXCELL is dried, a thin, brown and transparent film forms. Please see image below.

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The dried film of bacterial cellulose from GXCELL

In this form the material has parchment-like properties and this inspired scientists at C-MOULD to produce a small book shown that was grown from and made entirely from bacteria. Not only is the fabric of its pages (GXCELL) produced by bacteria, but the book is also printed and illustrated with naturally pigmented bacteria. To our knowledge, this is the first book to be grown and produced using just bacteria (image below).

Book

A small book made entirely from bacteria (pages and ink)

 

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C-MOULD’s full palette of pigmented bacteria. The inks used to print and illustrate the book above. 

 

The “paper” used in the book above is only a crude approximation of paper and would not be suitable as a direct replacement, and so scientists at C-MOULD have been experimenting with treatments to modify the bacterial cellulose into more versatile forms.    We have developed one simple treatment that converts the rather fragile and brittle native form of bacterial cellulose into a much more flexible, that is very similar in its properties to paper (see the video below). We call it p-Paper to reflect its bacterial (Prokaryotic life forms) origin and to differentiate from  the more conventional e-Paper made from trees (Eukaryotic life forms). It’s flexible can be written on and importantly no trees were harmed during its production.

 

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