Caroline Ajo-Franklin, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Living Foundations: Programming Cells to Synthesize Hierarchically Ordered Materials
Written by Gargi Joshi
Structural hierarchy found in nature imparts several survival characteristics to organisms including high toughness as observed in shells, bones, and teeth to prevent crack propagation. The components involved are a mix of hard and soft features across multiple length scales. We as researchers learn from such examples and try to mimic nature by synthesizing such materials but understanding of the key processes has not been unveiled. Caroline Ajo-Franklin is trying to assess the mechanisms by using a bottom-up synthesis of assembling engineered living systems similar to nacre (pearl from mollusks). Synthetic biology provides this scope as two strains having different properties of surface attachment were associated together by artificial engineering. The designed combination demonstrated behavior of a hydrogel similar to that in living systems. Not only this, but the behavior can be dynamically modified by altering the crosslinking densities in the hydrogel to display switchable mechanical properties.