self healingImage from the TomEllis Lab shows a self-healing material comprising an upper wax layer on top of the biomaterial with embedded dormant yeast cells. Upon damage, the cells are reactivated and repair the material at the point of damage.

Principle Investigator: Dr Tom Ellis 
Department / Centre: Centre for Synthetic Biology
Lab: Tom Ellis Lab
Funding Agency: U.S. Army

Summary of Project:

Biological materials form the natural environment we see around us and are typically capable of self-assembly, self-healing and multifunctionality.

In contrast, materials synthesised by humans lack the ability to self-assemble and also cannot repair upon damage. They are simply inert bulk materials. This means that repairs of surfaces, clothing, membranes or other applications of materials are typically an expensive operation and often the material is just simply replaced in its entirety

In synthetic biology, at the cross-section between the living world and the synthetic, there now exists an opportunity to make materials that can also act to repair damage either automatically or once it is identified by the user. This can be achieved by taking inspiration from nature where materials are produced by the cells embedded within.

This project is investigating living co-cultures of engineered cells which together ‘grow’ sophisticated composite biomaterials. By engineering the cells within the material to be dormant, with the ability to reactivate upon material damage, the cells can be programmed to self-repair minor defects as and when they happen.