Lifesaving 3D Printing in Nature

The technology of 3D Printing has taken the world by storm. Few innovations have the ability to change the world like 3D Printing can. A variety of disciplines from war and weaponry to medicine have seen advancements due to the rise in 3D Printing. Biology is no exception to these innovations. 3D Printed human prosthetics have made headlines, but recently, animal prosthetics have manifested in rare cases. The two most notable cases involve the implementation of prosthetics in birds.

“Beauty” an eagle from the Pacific Northwest was able to get a new beak through a complex engineering project after her beak was shot in 2005 by poachers. Beauty’s injury was almost fatal; without her beak she was rendered incapable of feeding herself and in some cases defending herself. After realizing that Beauty’s beak would likely never grow back, non- for profit wildlife group “Birds of Prey Northwest” not only nursed the eagle back to health through a feeding tube, but also went to seek help. After pondering multiple solutions, a team of engineers, scientists and even a dentist worked tirelessly to create a prosthetic eagle beak. Led by raptor Jane Fink Cantwell, the team considered a number of obstacles and ultimately came up with a final product. As expected, the application of the beak was a complicated one that ultimately took the whole day to complete. The long day was well worth it, because at the end of the day, Beauty’s new beak gave her the ability to eat, drink, and preen herself. In the days that followed, Beauty was under close observation, because her beak was not yet secure enough for her to live in the wild. Within hours, Beauty had adapted to her new appendage and only improved as time went on. An eagle destined to be euthanized was now very functional.

Another rare, but intriguing case of animal prosthetics occurred in Arlington, Tennessee. Buttercup, a duck born with a backwards left foot was unable to walk until wildlife group “Feathered Angels Water Fowl Sanctuary” discovered Buttercup. After weighing the options, the conservatory decided it would be in Buttercup’s best interest to amputate the backwards foot and look into a possible prosthetic one. Using 3D rendering and printing software and the help of multiple engineers, a new foot was created to attach to his leg. After fastening the new foot with a custom sock and screw, Buttercup was able to walk normally for the first time. An interesting challenge for creating a prosthetic for a duck is the material. Ducks spend a lot of time around water and it was necessary to use a hard silicone material that is both durable but also waterproof. Furthermore, Buttercup has a special swimming foot that allows him to swim more efficiently.

In both cases, technology was able to improve the quality of life for animals. The future of 3D printing remains unknown, but it is like that it will be the new standard for prosthetics and other medical uses. The use of 3D printed prosthetics for animals in still very rare, but will hopefully become more prevalent in the years to come.

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Biology Teacher

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