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Materials design by synthetic biology

Abstract

Synthetic biology applies genetic tools to engineer living cells and organisms analogous to the programming of machines. In materials synthetic biology, engineering principles from synthetic biology and materials science are integrated to redesign living systems as dynamic and responsive materials with emerging and programmable functionalities. In this Review, we discuss synthetic-biology tools, including genetic circuits, model organisms and design parameters, which can be applied for the construction of smart living materials. We investigate non-living and living self-organizing multifunctional materials, such as intracellular structures and engineered biofilms, and examine the design and applications of hybrid living materials, including living sensors, therapeutics and electronics, as well as energy-conversion materials and living building materials. Finally, we consider prospects and challenges of programmable living materials and identify potential future applications.

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Fig. 1: Timeline of major milestones in synthetic biology and materials synthetic biology.
Fig. 2: Genetic circuits.
Fig. 3: Design parameter space for materials synthetic biology.
Fig. 4: Non-living and living self-organized materials.
Fig. 5: Hybrid living materials.
Fig. 6: Challenges and future directions of materials synthetic biology.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge Mr. Lei Chen for assistance in preparing the figures and Dr. Karen Pepper for reviewing the manuscript. B.A. would like to thank the support provided by the China Scholarship Council (CSC) during his visiting period at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This work was sponsored by the National Key R&D Program of China (grant nos. 2020YFA0908100 and 2018YFA0902804, the two grants provide equal support), the Joint Funds of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (key program no. U1932204), the National Institutes of Health of the USA (grant no. 1-R21-AI121669-01) and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the USA (grant no. HDTRA1-15-1-0050).

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Tang, TC., An, B., Huang, Y. et al. Materials design by synthetic biology. Nat Rev Mater 6, 332–350 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41578-020-00265-w

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41578-020-00265-w

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