Living materials from MIT can be programmed to sense environmental pollutants or glow in the dark.

Benefits

  • Scalable
  • Resilient
  • Reduced costs

Applications

  • Medical diagnosis
  • Sensors
  • Water filtration

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 9: Industry Innovation & Infrastructure

  • Goal 12: Responsible Production & Consumption

The Challenge

Engineered living materials have the potential to replace common ‘non-living’ materials used in many applications today. Although the living materials are capable of achieving a variety of functions, they have been found to be too sensitive and weak for large-scale applications.

Innovation Details

The living material, called Syn-SCOBY, is made from a mixture of bacteria and yeast. The yeast strain is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a common laboratory strain. The bacteria is Komagataeibacter rhaeticus, which was isolated from a kombucha mother. It is known to produce large quantities of cellulose, which serves as a tough and resilient scaffold for the living material. The material is designed so that either the yeast or just the enzymes they produce are incorporated into the structure. The engineered yeast can serve a variety of functions, such as producing enzymes that glow in the dark, or sensing pollutants in the environment. The yeast can also be programmed so that they can break down pollutants after detecting them. The material can be grown in just a few days, and can grow to the size of a bathtub if left long enough.

 

Biomimicry Story

Symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast (commonly known as SCOBYs) are cultivated in many kitchens or factories as an aid in producing kombucha. The yeast and bacteria work together to form sour foods such as kombucha or kimchi. The yeast naturally ferment the available sugars while the bacteria convert ethanol (a byproduct of the fermentation) into lactic or acetic acid.