Living cells as novel active components in materials science

Living cells are capable of synthesizing a staggering number of complex molecules from a few precursors. Such processes in natural materials allow for continuous, efficient, and autonomous (re)generation and adaptation in response to external factors.

These properties are desirable in many medical and technical materials, but they are not realizable with non-living matter. A new paradigm in material synthesis is emerging, in which living cells are used as active components in man-made materials to augment non-living matter with life-like capabilities. Living Materials are a new class of materials that incorporate living organisms into synthetic matrices to achieve advanced programmable functionalities.

The emerging Living Materials scientific community has met in Saarbrücken in 12–14h February 2020 at the first international Living Materials Conference. Around 90 material scientists, synthetic biologists and application engineers gathered to discuss the general scientific basis and application perspective of this field. Particular sessions were devoted to how to compatibilize living bacteria with non-living matrices, at both material design and processing level, and to how to incorporate synthetic biology to program functionality.

Initial application scenarios of living materials were presented, i.e., self-healing concrete and adhesives, self-renewing bioremediation membranes and catalysis materials, self-powering lighting solutions or self-replenishable drug delivery depots, among others.

A complementary session on risk assessment and regulatory issues related to living materials, with contributions from regulatory agencies and industry highlighted relevant considerations for technology transfer in this budding field.

“The integration of synthetic biology and materials science opens a new horizon in materials development, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg,” says Aránzazu del Campo, chair of the conference and scientific director of INM-Leibniz Institute of New Materials in Saarbrücken. “Living Materials provide fundamental new concepts for the design of adaptive and sustainable materials in the future” says Shrikrisnan Sankaran, co-chair of the conference and leader of the Bioprogrammable Materials group at INM.

During the conference, Wiley sponsored a prize for the best poster presentation and it was given to Hanna Wagner from the group of Professor Wilfried Weber from the BIOSS Centre at University of Freiburg.

Awarding of the poster prize at Living Materials 2020; from left to right: Professor Aránzazu del Campo (INM Saarbrücken), Dr. Anja Wecker (Wiley-VCH), Dr. Hanna Wagner (BIOSS Freiburg), Dr. Ulrike Kauscher Pinto (Wiley-VCH) and Dr. Shrikrishnan Sankaran (INM Saarbrücken)

Kindly contributed by Prof. Aránzazu del Campo.

This article was corrected on March 10, 2020, to correct the dates of the Living Materials Conference. It took place between 12th and 14th February, not 12th and 13th as originally stated.

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