Microbiome Engineering
Environmental Biotechnology Challenge:

Enable sustainable, more environmentally-friendly materials and infrastructure development.

Enable the production of sustainable building materials.

Engineer microbiomes to produce drop-in replacement chemicals for use in construction.

  • Technical achievement: Engineer microbial biofilms that adhere to diverse surface materials (e.g., metal, latex paint, concrete) and resist environmental dispersion forces.
  • Technical achievement: Engineer microbiomes secrete compounds that replace surface coatings (e.g., paint, anti-rust, optical).

Engineer microbiomes to produce non-structural biomaterials (i.e., microbiome-derived insulation to replace fiberglass).

  • Technical achievement: Design microbiomes that produce and secrete cellulosic fibers.
  • Technical achievement: Engineer microbiomes and microbiome-derived biomass to grow to sizes specified by boundaries in the built environment (e.g., building walls, ceilings, concrete foundations).

Engineer microbiomes to produce structural biomaterials (i.e., replace concrete with microbial ‘concrete’).

  • Technical achievement: Engineer distributed metabolism within microbiomes to increase the growth rate and ‘curing’ time of the primary biomass-generating microbe in microbial concretes.
  • Technical achievement: Design microbiomes that form regular crystalline or lattice patterns, to improve their structural, load-bearing properties.
  • Technical achievement: Create living objects that grow and interact with the environment, such as an autonomous organism.1Endy, D. (2008). Synthetic biology: Can we make biology easy to engineer? Industrial Biotechnology, 4(4), 340–351. View Publication

Enable sustainable production of environmentally-friendly consumable materials (e.g., plastics, wood, fabrics).

Engineer cellulose- or lignin-producing microbiomes to create wood-like materials.

  • Technical achievement: Design structured microbiomes that secrete cellulose or lignin in patterns that mimic and can replace cross-laminated wood materials.
  • Technical achievement: Engineer cellulose-producing microbiomes that can invade and grow on rotting wood, to repair and strengthen it.

Engineer microbiomes that are integrated into or could be applied to fabrics/textiles, and repair them when damage occurs (e.g., wear and tear, UV exposure).

  • Technical achievement: Enable rapid, directed production of complex polymers using microbes optimized for individual synthesis steps in polymer production.
  • Technical achievement: Engineer microbiomes that secrete pigments to prevent colors from fading or to restore faded colors.
  • Technical achievement: Engineer signal and response cascades in a synthetic microbiome so activity is specific to a damage signal.

Engineer plastic-integrated microbiomes that trigger plastic degradation in response to environmental signals.

  • Technical achievement: Identify and heterologously express pathways for plastic degradation in chassis strains that can be incorporated into desired microbiome.
  • Technical achievement: Engineer plastic degrading microbiomes that form spores or remain otherwise dormant until a physical change in the plastic occurs (e.g., UV damage triggers activity, disruption of a patterned microbiome indicates object breakage).


  1. Endy, D. (2008). Synthetic biology: Can we make biology easy to engineer? Industrial Biotechnology, 4(4), 340–351. https://doi.org/10.1089/ind.2008.4.340
Last updated: October 1, 2020 Back