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Engineering living scaffolds for building materials

March 14, 2019 / Brooke Kuei

When the inside of a mollusk shell shimmers in the sunlight, the iridescence isn't produced by colored pigments but by tiny physical structures self-assembled from living cells and inorganic components. Now, a team of researchers at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has developed a platform to mimic this self-assembly ability by engineering living cells to act as a starting point for building composite materials.
Engineered living materials (ELMs) use living cells as materials scaffolds and are a new class of material that might open the door to self-healing materials and other advanced applications in bioelectronics, biosensing, and smart materials. Such materials could mimic emergent properties found in nature-where a complex system has properties that the individual components do not have such as iridescence or strength.