Two complementary strategies can be used in the fabrication of molecular biomaterials. In the 'top-down' approach, biomaterials are generated by stripping down a complex entity into its component parts (for example, paring a virus particle down to its capsid to form a viral cage). This contrasts with the 'bottom-up' approach, in which materials are assembled molecule by molecule (and in some cases even atom by atom) to produce novel supramolecular architectures. The latter approach is likely to become an integral part of nanomaterials manufacture and requires a deep understanding of individual molecular building blocks and their structures, assembly properties and dynamic behaviors. Two key elements in molecular fabrication are chemical complementarity and structural compatibility, both of which confer the weak and noncovalent interactions that bind building blocks together during self-assembly. Using natural processes as a guide, substantial advances have been achieved at the interface of nanomaterials and biology, including the fabrication of nanofiber materials for three-dimensional cell culture and tissue engineering, the assembly of peptide or protein nanotubes and helical ribbons, the creation of living microlenses, the synthesis of metal nanowires on DNA templates, the fabrication of peptide, protein and lipid scaffolds, the assembly of electronic materials by bacterial phage selection, and the use of radiofrequency to regulate molecular behaviors.