The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently launched the Engineered Living Materials (ELM) program in the hopes of developing building materials that combine the structural advantages of traditional building materials with the adaptive advantages of living materials.
“The vision of the ELM program is to grow materials on demand where they are needed,” ELM Program Manager Justin Gallivan said. “Imagine that instead of shipping finished materials, we can ship precursors and rapidly grow them on site using local resources. And since the materials will be alive, they will be able to respond to changes in their environment and heal themselves in response to damage.”
Living materials, such as bone, skin, bark and coral, can grow when needed, repair themselves and respond to changing environments, but current science doesn’t allow for their size or shape to be controlled to the degree required for construction. While current technologies allow for materials to be grown, once manufactured, they are inert and do not capture all of the benefits of living material. Scientists currently can create living cells, derived from natural tissues, but not engineered for synthetic functions and not on a large scale.
Through the new ELM program, DARPA hopes scientists can develop materials that combine these features for efficient and effective construction.