Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bacteria Could Grow Futuristic 'Self-Healing' Materials

bacteria grow living materials 
Researchers have produced "living" materials by nudging E. coli bacteria (oblong object) to grow biological films that contain a special type of protein called curli fibers (blue lines). The team also modified these proteins to make inorganic materials, such as gold nanoparticles (gold) and quantum dots (green and red dots), to grow on the biofilms.

 Why bother to manufacture materials if you can grow them organically?

Researchers have produced "living" materials by nudging bacteria to grow biological films. In turn, this process could lead to the development of more complex and interactive structures programmed to self-assemble into specific patterns, such as those used on solar cells and diagnostic sensors, and even self-healing materials that could sense damage and repair it, a new study finds.

"In contrast to materials we use in modern life, which are all dead, living materials have the ability to self-heal, adapt to the environment, form into complex patterns and shapes, and generate new functional materials and devices from the bottom up," said study lead author Timothy Lu, a biological engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Such "living materials" are essentially hybrids that have the best of both worlds: the benefits of both living cells, which can organize and grow on their own, and nonliving materials, which add functions such as electricity conduction or light emission. [Biomimicry: 7 Clever Technologies Inspired by Nature]

For instance, other researchers have looked at the possibility of organizing viruses into new materials. But Lu said his team's approach is different. "Previous systems do not leverage the characteristics of living organisms," he told Live Science. "Also, most modern materials' synthesis processes are energy-intensive, human-intensive endeavors. But we're suggesting to use biology to grow materials from the bottom up in an environmentally friendly fashion."

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