Researchers at Imperial College London have developed living 3D building elements that are capable of repairing themselves if they are damaged. Imperial announced this in a press release and in a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Imperial lists the possible applications as e.g. potholes in the road, a crack in the fuselage of an aircraft, or a star chip in a car window-screen.

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It could prove to be very important for the maintenance and longevity of materials, according to Professor Tom Ellis at the Bioengineering Department. “In the past, we’ve created living materials with inbuilt sensors that can detect environmental cues and changes. Now we’ve created living materials that can detect damage and respond to it by healing themselves.”

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Engineered Living Materials

In order to create so-called ELMs (Engineered Living Materials), the researchers genetically modified the Komagataeibacter rhaeticus bacterium in such a way that – when damaged – the bacteria produce fluorescent cell structures (spheroids).

Ellis states that the spheroids were extensively tested in blocks that had holes in them. “By doing this, the blocks proved capable of both detecting the damage and repairing the material.”

Yeast

The study opens up even more possibilities, according to researcher Joaquin-Astorga. For example, other yeast bacteria can be introduced into dressings that make wounds heal faster.

The study was co-funded by the US Army and the Engineering and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

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About the author

Author profile picture Maurits Kuypers graduated as a macroeconomist from the University of Amsterdam, specialising in international work. He has been active as a journalist since 1997, first for 10 years on the editorial staff of Het Financieele Dagblad in Amsterdam, then as a freelance correspondent in Berlin and Central Europe. When it comes to technological innovations, he always has an eye for the financial feasibility of a project.