How handy would it be if, instead of taking your broken circuit board to the Genius Bar (again), you could just prompt it to heal itself? That’s the futuristic possibility researchers have recently inched ever so slightly toward, with the development of hybrid “living materials” made from bacterial cells and inorganic matter. The discovery could pave the way for electrical components that are self-healing and environmentally aware.
The team of engineers from MIT reprogrammed E. coli bacteria to latch onto gold nanoparticles and quantum dots—tiny, semiconducting crystals. With living cells and inorganic material wedded, scientists could assemble the cells into biofilms (a thin layer of bacteria bound together) that could conduct electrical current. Since the cells also communicate with one another, the resulting “living material” can adapt to changing environmental conditions.