Engineering Biology & Materials Science

Properties & Performance

Properties and Performance considers the engineering of dynamic characteristics and activities of materials through the incorporation or activation of biocomponents.


This technical theme considers the engineering of dynamic characteristics and activities of materials, including sensing and response, communication and computation, and self-repair through the incorporation or activation of biocomponents. This includes the engineering of materials to provide signals and store and release energy or information through an engineered biological component and the engineering of dynamic interactions between the biological and abiotic components of a material. Properties & Performance also considers challenges in tools, methods, and technologies for characterizing dynamic activity and performance of living materials and materials that incorporate biocomponents.

Materials can be enabled to dynamically sense and transmit information through distinctively engineered biocomponents in the system. Here, a biosensing circuit made out of synthetic biomolecules is patterned onto a surface. Small adjustments in the sequence and identity of the sensing components makes it receptive to a variety of biological matter like RNA (purple), enzymes (red), reactive chemical species and environmental factors (blue), and specific antibodies (green). The multiplex sensor is able to simultaneously interact with these complex cues and generate measurable output that quantifies each component in the system.

Breakthrough Capabilities

Enable self-regulating living materials by introducing feedback loops to maintain performance, to adapt to fluctuating environmental conditions, and to demonstrate out-of-equilibrium behaviors.

Enable materials with the ability to self-repair.

Enable materials that sense, encode, and store multimodal, multiplexed environmental signals.

Enable biological control through abiotic materials.

Utilize biology to enable chemical, thermal, kinetic, and electrical storage and release from materials.

Tools and techniques for characterizing material biocomponent dynamics.

Tools and technologies to measure materials properties and performance that operate at biological throughput and scale.

Engineering Biology (2019) Breakthrough Capabilities

Included in the roadmap are select breakthrough capabilities from our 2019 roadmap, Engineering Biology (below in green; milestones at 2021, 2024, 2029, and 2039). While these breakthrough capabilities were written in the context of advancing the field of engineering biology, the EBRC Materials Roadmapping Working Group leading this roadmapping project felt that the technical achievements elaborated in these breakthrough capabilities and their milestones directly contribute to achieving advancements in materials from engineering biology. This content has been incorporated as reference and, when pertinent, will be provided with context for its inclusion in this roadmap.

Ability to control cell-to-cell communication between different species.

Of particular importance for enabling dynamic materials is the ability to engineer signaling and sensing from surface-to-surface through cell-to-cell contact. We envision this as a 2025 milestone. A major bottleneck to this biotechnology is that the ligand-receptor pairs that are functionally expressed across different species remains unknown, but could serve as a general library for advancing this engineering biology. Potential solutions to this bottleneck include: identifying and testing common ligand-receptor pairs that are retained across species; and/or identifying ligand receptor pairs that can be functionally expressed in non-native hosts.


  1. Jung, J.K., Alam, K.K., Verosloff, M.S., Capdevila, D.A., Desmau, M., Clauer, P.R., Lee, J.W., Nguyen, P.Q., Pastén, P.A., Matiasek, S.J., Gaillard, J., Giedroc, D.P., Collins, J.J., & Lucks, J.B. (2020). Cell-free biosensors for rapid detection of water contaminants. Nature Biotechnology, 38, 1451–1459.
  2. McLean, M.A., Gregory, M.C., & Sligar, S.G. (2018). Nanodiscs: a controlled bilayer surface for the study of membrane proteins. Annual Review of Biophysics, 47, 107-124.
Last updated: January 19, 2021