Inspired by natural materials such as bone — a matrix of minerals and other substances, including living cells — MIT engineers have coaxed bacterial cells to produce biofilms that can incorporate nonliving materials, such as gold nanoparticles and quantum dots.
Biological and electrical engineers at MIT have combined E.coli cells with gold nanoparticles to make the bacteria conductive — all using “sticky” biofilms. The hope is that by engineering inorganic cells like these that “talk to each other”, just like their living equivalent, we can produce self-assembling or even self-healing batteries, solar cells or even medical diagnostic sensors that hop a ride on molecular drug delivery systems.
“It shows that you can make cells that talk to each other and they can change the composition of the material over time,” said Timothy Lu, lead author on the paper describing the technique in Nature Materials. “Ultimately, we hope to emulate how natural systems, like bone, form. No one tells bone what to do, but it generates a material in response to environmental signals.”
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