MIT melds electronics and living cells into new 'living materials'

Credit: CBS

The concept of living electronics is one of the stranger rabbit holes sci-fi has taken us down. The idea that some component of your starship's computer could one day be alive, in a biological sense, can cause a number of conflicting emotions. Some people might feel sorrow for the enslaved organism, while others think it only logical that we use nature's adaptability and resilience to fuel our technological progress.

If humanity is to have a debate on whether it's conscionable to employ living organisms in our electronics, it begins now. MIT researchers, led by doctoral candidate Allen Chen, have fused the living and non-living worlds by creating E. coli strands capable of incorporating gold nanoparticles and quantum dots into their colonies. These "living materials" will benefit from both the conductivity and light-emitting properties of their non-living parts and the responsiveness of their bacterial hearts.

The concept is based on naturally-occurring living materials like bone, which incorporates both minerals and living cells. While glowing, conductive bacteria is pretty interesting on its own, the research team believes that its new living circuitry could someday be used in everything from solar cells and diagnostic sensors to self-healing electronics.

Incorporating bacteria into our tech doesn't seem that terrifying from an ethical standpoint, but it does open the door to further living/non-living experimentation. Someday we could find ourselves running our tech with more complex organisms, like plants or even mammals. It may sound far-off now, but maybe it's good to start thinking about where humanity will draw the line in the sand on "living materials."

Nature, via MIT News and Core77

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