Step forward in quest to develop living construction materials and beyond
Some engineered living materials can combine the strength of run-of-the-mill building materials with the responsiveness of living systems. Think self-healing concrete, paint that changes color when a specific chemical is detected or material that could reproduce and fill in a crack when one forms. This would revolutionize construction and maintenance, with wide-reaching economic and environmental implications.
Seeing this new category of adaptive materials on consumer shelves may be a ways off. Still, critical early research from the University of Minnesota sheds new light on this exciting advancement, which shows promise beyond building materials, including biomedical applications.
In a new study in Nature Communications, researchers from the College of Biological Sciences demonstrate how to transform silica — a common material used in plaster and other construction materials — into a self-assembling, dynamic and resilient material.
Currently, the majority of engineered living materials rely on adding a living component into a material. While this additive-approach has benefits, it falls short of the aspirational material — a product that grows, self-organizes, and heals itself. Other researchers were able to engineer a bacteria to produce the target material, but it could only survive in ideal lab conditions. That wouldn’t cut it in real-world applications.