Engineered Living Building Materials

Architectural coral is an idea proposed by Larry Niven in his 1968 novel A Gift From Earth. It works like this:

The remnants of the shaping balloon, which gave all architectural coral buildings their telltale bulge, had been carefully scraped away...

...A genetic manipulation of ordinary sea coral, it was the cheapest building material known. The only real cost was in the plastic balloon that guided the growth of the coral and enclosed the coral's special air-borne food.
(Read more about Larry Niven's architectural coral)

Here's a recent paper about how living building materials might be bioengineered for use by architects and builders:

Engineered living building materials (LBMs) use biology to confer multiple functionalities to materials for the built environment. Microorganisms can be leveraged for multiple purposes in the design of LBMs, including increasing the rate of manufacturing, imparting mechanical benefit, and sustaining biological function. In this work, we used photosynthetic microorganisms to biomineralize inert sand-gelatin scaffolds to create LBMs. These materials are capable of exponential regeneration of the living component in response to physical switches. Thus, from one starting generation of material, multiple regenerations are produced on demand.

In this study, microorganism-precipitated calcium carbonate conferred high fracture toughness to the LBMs. More broadly, LBMs represent a platform technology whereby biology can be leveraged to potentially deliver multiple functionalities to infrastructure materials by design.

(Via Biomineralization and Successive Regeneration of Engineered Living Building Materials.)

Read more about this idea in this article by Wil Srubar Assistant Professor of Architectural Engineering and Materials Science, University of Colorado Boulder:

...what if buildings walls, roofs, floors, windows were actually alive grown, maintained and healed by living materials? Imagine architects using genetic tools that encode the architecture of a building right into the DNA of organisms, which then grow buildings that self-repair, interact with their inhabitants and adapt to the environment.

Living architecture is moving from the realm of science fiction into the laboratory as interdisciplinary teams of researchers turn living cells into microscopic factories. At the University of Colorado Boulder, I lead the Living Materials Laboratory. Together with collaborators in biochemistry, microbiology, materials science and structural engineering, we use synthetic biology toolkits to engineer bacteria to create useful minerals and polymers and form them into living building blocks that could, one day, bring buildings to life.

Buildings grown by bacteria

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