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Brief Published: 27 Mar 2014

Self-Aware Living Material

E. coli bacteria

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have harnessed the power of E. coli bacteria to create a living material. Researchers created a biofilm using genetically modified versions of the bacteria, to which they added non-living materials such as nanoparticles of gold and quantum dots.

The study showed that these living materials are able to change the composition of the biofilm in much the same way as a living cell, while still being able to perform complex manmade functions, such as conducting electricity.

One potential use for the material could be in the manufacture of solar panels, where the ability to repair tears or holes in the biofilm without external command would increase the durability and lifespan of the product.

“Our idea is to put the living and the non-living worlds together to make hybrid materials that have living cells in them and are functional,” says Timothy Lu, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and biological engineering at MIT. “It’s an interesting way of thinking about materials synthesis, which is very different from what people do now, which is usually a top-down approach.” 

From bio-lights to self-healing concrete, bacteria-based innovation is driving the development of intuitive new materials and renewable power sources. For more, take a look at Bacteria: Fabric of the Future? and Textile Futures: Tomorrow’s Material World