• Tech Tech

Scientists make mind-blowing breakthrough with ‘living’ material that could essentially grow buildings: ‘This is still truly science fiction’

“It is a long-held vision that we are going to be able to make materials based on living things.”

"It is a long-held vision that we are going to be able to make materials based on living things."

Photo Credit: iStock

A team at Caltech has created a bacteria-based material that could someday be used to create buildings that can heal themselves, regulate the temperatures inside of them, and more.

The team, consisting of Mikhail Shapiro, Julia Kornfield, and their former Ph.D. student Lealia Xiong, spoke to Advanced Science News about the engineered living materials and their exciting future implications.

“This is still truly science fiction,” Kornfield said, adding that actually turning the invention into a viable building material that can grow itself “is way down the road and there is no infrastructure for even demonstrating that.”

However, all three scientists were optimistic about the future of engineered living materials, with Xiong noting that synthetic biology is still a relatively young field at 20 years old.

“It is a long-held vision that we are going to be able to make materials based on living things,” Shapiro added. “In fact, we already do that all the time. The trees around us are a living material, just not an engineered living material.”

While it may seem like the materials we use to build structures — wood, steel, concrete, etc. — are fairly set in stone (pun intended), new developments are being made all the time as scientists seek to make our living environments more efficient and planet-friendly. 

One recent example is a cement substitute made from waste steel dust, which a doctoral student at the University of Arizona created based on an accidental discovery.

As far as when our apartment and office buildings will be made out of self-regulating engineered living materials, there is no timeline in place.

“Personally, I think it is a little early to think about commercial prospects for this kind of material,” Shapiro said. “At this point we are trying to change the way people think about what is possible. It will take quite a bit more work, not just from our groups, but really from the broader synthetic biology community to make engineered living materials a commonplace commercial reality.”

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider