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Sigalon's Inspired Thinking Soup. An artist’s rendering of a bacterial cell engineered to produce amyloid nanofibers that incorporate particles such as quantum dots (red and green spheres) or gold nanoparticles (credit: Yan Liang) MIT engineers have coaxed bacterial cells to produce biofilms that can incorporate nonliving materials, such as gold nanoparticles and quantum dots.

Sigalon's Inspired Thinking Soup

These “living materials” combine the advantages of live cells — which respond to their environment, produce complex biological molecules, and span multiple length scales — with the benefits of nonliving materials, which add functions such as conducting electricity or emitting light. This approach could one day be used to design more complex devices such as solar cells, self-healing materials, or diagnostic sensors, says Timothy Lu, an MIT assistant professor of electrical engineering and biological engineering.

Lu is the senior author of a paper describing this innovation in the March 23 issue of Nature Materials.