Inspired by natural materials like bones and minerals, MIT engineers have coaxed bacterial cells to produce biofilms that can incorporate nonliving materials, such as gold nanoparticles and quantum dots.
These “living materials” combine the advantages of live cells, which respond to their environment, produce complex biological molecules, and span multiple length scales, with the benefits of nonliving materials, which add functions such as conducting electricity or emitting light.
The new materials represent a simple demonstration of the power of this approach, which could one day be used to design more complex devices such as solar cells, self-healing materials, or diagnostic sensors, said researchers.
“Our idea is to put the living and the nonliving worlds together to make hybrid materials that have living cells in them and are functional,” said senior author, Timothy Lu.
Lu and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology worked with the bacterium E coli as it naturally produces biofilms that contain so-called “curli fibres” – amyloid proteins that help E coli attach to surfaces.