Combining Living Cells and Nonliving Materials for New Technologies
As technology gets smaller and smaller, new possibilities open up and new challenges arise. Among these challenges is how to build technology with almost unbelievably small components. Researchers at MIT have found an answer to that, which could lead to some very interesting applications as well.
Working with nanoscale materials is difficult when you are as large as a human, but it is not so hard for bacteria. E. coli is a well understood bacterium that researchers have been experimenting with for some time now, and the MIT researchers have found a way to use its ability to produce biofilms to build useful structures. By manipulating the peptides on the fibers in the biofilm, it is possible to have them pick up non-living materials, including gold nanoparticles, which could form gold nanowires within the biofilm. The researchers also manipulated programmed the bacteria to be able to respond to signals from others, so multiple bacteria could work together to build a specific structure.
This research was inspired by natural examples of living and non-living materials being combined, such as bones. It could lead to new means of building materials from the bottom up as well as useful applications like scaffolds for tissue engineering.