Engineering 101

Living Building Materials? They’re Closer Than You Think…

While the image above may look like Jello, it isn’t. It is an engineered bacteria and silica combination that can self-assemble and self-heal. And, while these materials aren’t likely to hit the shelves any time soon, researchers have made exciting advancements.

In a new study published in Nature Communications, scientists from the College of Biological Sciences demonstrate how silica, already used in many building materials, can transform into self-assembling, dynamic, and resilient structures.

Current living materials rely on adding living components into other substances or can only survive in a lab. This doesn’t live up to the aspirations of products that grow, self-organize, and self-heal.

The team engineered a common bacteria, Bacillus subtilis, found in soil and the gastrointestinal tract of ruminants, humans, and marine sponges to cross-link with silica. The bacteria is benign but can go dormant in unfavorable conditions and return to life when their surroundings favor growth. It makes an ideal candidate for substances like plaster and material coatings that must be shelf-stable and easily activated.

More research needs to be done, but this is a great building-block for the homes, roads, and bridges of the future.

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