Engineering Biology & Materials Science (2021)

A Research Roadmap for Interdisciplinary Innovation

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How to cite Engineering Biology & Materials Science

Engineering Biology Research Consortium (2021). Engineering Biology & Materials Science: A Research Roadmap for Interdisciplinary Innovation. Retrieved from doi: 10.25498/E4F592

What is Engineering Biology & Materials Science

Engineering Biology & Materials Science: A Research Roadmap for Interdisciplinary Innovation assesses the challenges and potential for innovation at the intersection of engineering biology and materials science. Through explicit, long-term breakthrough capabilities for scientific and technological achievement and discrete milestones over a time period of 20 years, this roadmap aims to bring together the foundations and advancements in both fields to create new scientific and engineering possibilities. Further, the roadmap envisions creative and ambitious material solutions to persistent societal challenges that leverage the opportunities and advantages of harnessing and integrating engineered biology. The roadmap provides a high-level path for research and development (and inherently, for funding, investment, and infrastructure) to enable a future of advanced materials. The roadmap incorporates elements of EBRC’s other roadmaps, while accommodating the nuances and novelties of the intersection of materials science and engineering biology.

The roadmap consists of four technical themes that encompass the tools and technologies that are envisioned to enable materials from engineering biology. The technical themes are: SynthesisComposition & StructureProcessing, and Properties & Performance. The theme structure encourages easy navigation through different topics of the roadmap, clustering similar scientific and engineering ideas. Each technical theme consists of the Roadmap Elements, including 2-, 5-, 10-, and 20-year milestones (2022, 2025, 2030, and 2040, respectively). Though released in January 2021, this roadmap was written almost exclusively during 2020, thus we have chosen to retain these earlier timepoints.

The roadmap consists of five application sectors to illustrate the potential applications at the intersection of materials and engineering biology: 1) Industrial Biotechnology; 2) Health & Medicine; 3) Food & Agriculture; 4) Environmental Biotechnology; and 5) Energy. These application sectors and the associated societal challenges are captured from Engineering Biology and represent a broad consideration of significant economic and social roadblocks towards advancing the way we live and thrive. Within each application sector we highlight a number of exemplar applications of materials from engineering biology that will help us overcome these pervasive societal challenges, such as enabling and establishing a cleaner environment, supporting the health and well-being of growing populations, and accelerating innovation and economic viability of industry. We further identify potential discrete technical achievements necessary to obtain those exemplar applications. These exemplar applications and technical achievements reflect and tie together the advancements envisioned in the roadmap’s technical themes.

The convergence of the fields of materials science and engineering biology is a nascent space. As such, researchers in these fields are just beginning to develop intersecting technologies and collaborative concepts. As the tools and technologies combine, there is a need to develop more common language between the fields. To that end, we have developed a glossary for the key terms and concepts in this roadmap. The glossary is specific to the context of this roadmap, but developed with input from the community in both fields.

Development of Engineering Biology & Materials Science

EBRC’s roadmapping is an evergreen activity. Following the release of Engineering Biology in 2019, the EBRC community expressed interest and enthusiasm toward focusing our efforts in 2020 on roadmapping select topics, highlighting two research spaces – microbiomes and materials – where intersection with advancements in synthetic/engineering biology have the potential to transform the tools, applications, and products used and generated over the next 20 years. The selection of the materials topic proved to be incredibly timely, following the convening of the National Science Foundation Division of Materials Research’s three Square-Table workshops. These Square-Table workshops brought together experts in the synthetic biology and materials science fields to discuss trends and innovations and identify challenges and bottlenecks toward novel materials and material properties intertwined with synthetic biology. These workshops generated enthusiasm in the future of materials from synthetic/engineering biology and primed participants to contribute to EBRC’s roadmap.

To develop this roadmap, we engaged over 60 past Square-Table participants, EBRC members, students and postdocs, and other experts from the materials science and engineering biology communities, with the aim of producing a technical roadmap that serves both the synthetic biology and materials science fields. These individuals dedicated significant time and effort toward this roadmap’s production and we are grateful for their efforts.

The entirety of this roadmap was produced during the global SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, forcing our community of collaborators to adjust to working remotely, with all the distractions and stresses that our new lives afforded. In a departure from EBRC’s established roadmapping process – which is primarily conducted through intensive, in-person writing workshops – this roadmap is the product of eight virtual, videoconference workshops and many individual working hours, and adaptation of our previous processes of review and revision. However, the resulting roadmap is still anticipated to provide the research community and stakeholders in both materials science and engineering biology fields with an inspirational pathway towards interdisciplinary innovation.

Copyright © 2021 Engineering Biology Research Consortium.

Last updated: February 1, 2021