Synthetic biology as driver for the biologization of materials sciences

Mater Today Bio. 2021 May 26;11:100115. doi: 10.1016/j.mtbio.2021.100115. eCollection 2021 Jun.

Abstract

Materials in nature have fascinating properties that serve as a continuous source of inspiration for materials scientists. Accordingly, bio-mimetic and bio-inspired approaches have yielded remarkable structural and functional materials for a plethora of applications. Despite these advances, many properties of natural materials remain challenging or yet impossible to incorporate into synthetic materials. Natural materials are produced by living cells, which sense and process environmental cues and conditions by means of signaling and genetic programs, thereby controlling the biosynthesis, remodeling, functionalization, or degradation of the natural material. In this context, synthetic biology offers unique opportunities in materials sciences by providing direct access to the rational engineering of how a cell senses and processes environmental information and translates them into the properties and functions of materials. Here, we identify and review two main directions by which synthetic biology can be harnessed to provide new impulses for the biologization of the materials sciences: first, the engineering of cells to produce precursors for the subsequent synthesis of materials. This includes materials that are otherwise produced from petrochemical resources, but also materials where the bio-produced substances contribute unique properties and functions not existing in traditional materials. Second, engineered living materials that are formed or assembled by cells or in which cells contribute specific functions while remaining an integral part of the living composite material. We finally provide a perspective of future scientific directions of this promising area of research and discuss science policy that would be required to support research and development in this field.

Keywords: Cell encapsulation; Engineered living materials; Interactive materials; Metabolic engineering; Nanomaterials; Smart materials; Stimulus-responsive materials.

Publication types

  • Review