Researchers at MIT have been busy creating a new type of biofilms—sheets of living E. Coli cells combined with materials such as gold nanoparticles and quantum dots—that could provide large, self-aware surfaces.
The new materials are grown using E. Coli bacteria as a substrate. E. Coli naturally forms itself in thin sheets, known as biofilm, which contain "curli fibers"—proteins that help the bacterium attach to surfaces. They're also, though, capable of capturing non-living materials. So the researchers added gold nanoparticles and quantum dots onto the surface. to see what would happen. By carefully tweaking the rate at which E. Coli produces curli fibers, it' possible to control how quickly the film takes up gold nanoparticles introduced to the surface. The result is a material which independently grows a network of gold nanowires across its surface. Researcher Timothy Lu explains:
"It shows that indeed you can make cells that talk to each other and they can change the composition of the material over time. says. "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."
They also demonstrated that quantum dots—tiny crystals that exhibit quantum mechanical properties—could be introduced into the materials in the same way. So, rather more exciting than bone, they combine the best part of a living material, with its natural ability to respond to their environment and produce complex biological molecules, and the functionality of conducting electricity or emitting light.
The research offers an insight into future, where an organic and alive material can be fed with components to produce new materials, capable of building themselves specifically for the environment they inhabit. [MIT via Natural World News via Engadget]