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.
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.
Utilize DNA and RNA nanostructures to build components and materials that dynamically reorganize in a stimulus-dependent manner.
Enable genetic circuit design that links environmental stimuli and output, such as intracellular proteins determining the cell’s mechanical properties, or secreted proteins that take part in composite material or extracellular matrix.
Ability to rapidly prototype novel components for feedback circuits including sensors, transducers, logic gates, and actuators with precisely defined characteristics in model organisms.
Engineering of feedback circuits to maintain homeostasis via post-translational modification of proteins for cellular materials.
Rapidly create new logic gates with precisely defined characteristics in a broad range of organisms.
Enable more complex logic gate processing of multiple extrinsic signals by cells and link to a biological function.
Engineer feedback mechanisms to respond to different stimuli for the planned operation.
Embed active reaction mechanisms in extracellular matrix (ECM) materials.
Incorporate control circuits in cells that offset the effect of a particular stimulus to limit or impede response.
Enable materials with the ability to self-repair.
Enable a broader range of naturally self-repairing biomolecules to be used as material biocomponents, including proteins and amino acids.
Improve and optimize structure-property-performance metrics of biosynthetic materials (e.g., time of repair, strength, stimuli-range).
Engineer circuits within cells that allow their functionality to adapt to changing conditions, to recover from failures, and to reconfigure functionality based on need.
Mimic natural self-repair (as in living organisms) for creating self-healing in abiotic and composite materials that is autonomous and self-powered.
Engineer synthetic cell systems that can create a hierarchical self-healing composite material that operates (senses, responds, communicates, and computes) at broadband frequencies.
Enable materials that sense, encode, and store multimodal, multiplexed environmental signals.
Assemble tailored cell sensor and actuator arrays and consortia using 3D printing or other top-down methods.
Rapidly create new sensors with precisely defined characteristics.
Enable transfer of information from biological sensor to machine readable form and vice-versa, to reliably interpret biological signaling.
Enable cellular or cell-free system responses within 2-3 minutes from stimulus exposure.
Adapt proteins that have evolved stimuli-responsive functions into biomaterials to achieve novel sensing and signaling properties.
Record multiple types of time- and space-domain events using libraries of biomolecular signals (e.g., RNA or proteins) to store different types of signals for readout by, for example, high-throughput sequencing.
Develop means to use ion-based communication via excitable membranes in addition to chemical communication for faster, more location specific communication.
Ability to engineer new surface receptors for sensing and cell-to-cell signaling.
Development of novel mechanisms for storage of signals in biomolecules (e.g., polypeptides).
Ability to engineer new hetero-complex surface receptors for multiplexed sensing sensing and cell-to-cell signaling.
Custom integration of signals over different time and spatial scales by cells or cell-free circuits, to process inputs and direct cellular response.
Engineer materials with sentinel sensor networks that can sense and integrate numerous signals.
Develop new forms of communication from biological systems, such as light (including infrared and radio frequency) or mechanical force (e.g., sound) production.
Enable biological control through abiotic materials.
Develop cell-like materials that can secrete molecular information.
Utilize stimuli-responsive proteins (e.g., light-responsive, pH-responsive, temperature-responsive, mechanosensitive) and demonstrate their use in augmenting performances of polymeric materials.
Incorporate a variety of natural proteins that sense abiotic stimuli into biological composites and demonstrate combinatorial sensing.
Engineer arrested metabolism or programmed cell death upon task completion, by either external stimuli or by the cell sensing that the environmental condition to be monitored is not present any longer.
Establish key design principles for polymeric scaffolds or cell-like materials to augment biological functionality.
Develop polymeric scaffolds or cell-like materials that can augment functions of natural living cells.
Utilize biology to enable chemical, thermal, kinetic, and electrical storage and release from materials.
Engineer more efficient biomolecules and strain chassis that can store and release energy.
Develop biological structures to localize and release dynamically abiotic components.
Engineer energy storage and release from biocomponents in response to environmental stimuli.
Engineer materials that allow energy (i.e., thermal, chemical, electrical) storage and release to a broad range of stimuli on-demand.
Capability to combine multiple storage-release mechanisms within a single material.
Tools and techniques for characterizing material biocomponent dynamics.
Develop automation and other high-throughput methods for testing cellular sense-response across a range of conditions and with conditions that change in time of cells in suspension.
Enable visualization of cellular behavior (e.g., viability, morphology, locomotion) upon materials deformation.
Develop automation and other high-throughput methods for testing cellular sense-response across a range of dynamic conditions in solid (biotic or composite) materials.
Develop techniques to measure cell properties and function in the presence of abiotic material components, which often interfere with current measurement methods.
Enable techniques to determine the conformational and configurational entropy in kinetically-trapped biological materials at molecular scale, to design and control function and property.
High-throughput methods to test sense-response materials in situ in a range of realistic use environments.
Develop characterization methods for understanding cellular behavior (locomotion, deformation, viability) upon shear stress.
Tools and technologies to measure materials properties and performance that operate at biological throughput and scale.
Develop appropriate modeling techniques for materials that include living cells that correlate well with experimentally observed properties.
Models that can learn from different classes of experiments used to test material properties.
Structure-property mapping via high-throughput screening of materials with biocomponents.
Realization of high-throughput methods for physical property characterization (e.g., adhesion, tensile strength).
Develop high-resolution and three-dimensional imaging methods to capture subtle differences in biological components within materials.
In vivo characterization of materials produced in real time.
Expansion of 2D measurement methods to bulk anisotropic 3D structures.
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.
Tightly-controlled promoter-response regulator systems that enable intra- and inter-species cellular communication.
Synthetic cell-to-cell communication elements and networks that function in a broad range of host organisms.
Signal-response pathways that function in synthetic communities of 5-10 organisms, employing a variety of pathway types and host species.
Ability to produce engineered microorganisms that can reliably invade and coexist within a complex community and manipulate the consortium/biome function and behavior.
- 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. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41587-020-0571-7
- 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. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-biophys-070816-033620
Last updated: January 19, 2021