Friday, 13 March 2015


Reports are emerging that organic chemists from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have collaborated with engineers to produce their discipline’s own version of the 3D printer, which can transcribe small molecules and building-blocks for study and discovery. An established line of known chemicals can of course be synthesised in laboratories but usually at a great cost and with limited access which makes experimentation and distributed research prohibitively expense.

Most of such facilities are under contract to the pharmaceutical industry and it’s much more profitable for a lab to try to tease out an extension on some proprietary drug, a patent-medicine, that to devote time and effort on, say, an exotic jungle plant’s interesting, intriguing but uncertain anti-microbial properties brought to them by some unknown and uncredentialed scientist. Perhaps now, instead of supplicating and then queueing up—or trying to gather more samples from the field—researchers could just isolate the target compound, its structure and composition, and submit a print request to have batch of the chemical custom-made, which could be dispatched to several test centres or research facilities at one time. Democratising the studies, the important concepts of peer-review and vetting could perhaps become to mean teamwork, discovering novel and safe treatments and other substances (better culinary preservatives, glues, inks, textiles, etc.) more efficiently.