DARPA Wants to Create "Living" Building Materials


Your next house could repair itself, if the military's coolest research branch has anything to say about it. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to replace the cost-ineffective products we use to build different structures by making them out of "living" materials. 

To do that, it's launching the Engineered Living Materials program to create what it calls "a new class of materials" that live somewhere at the intersection of traditional building supplies and, well, living things.


"The vision of the ELM program is to grow materials on demand where they are needed," ELM program manager Justin Gallivan said in a DARPA press release. "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."

Sure, you can argue that wood, too, can be grown on site. But once you cut down a tree for the wood, the wood can't do anything but just be wood. The ELM program's materials would act as though the tree were never killed. Imagine wood that continues to work like a living thing, repairing itself when it gets damaged by the elements, thereby reducing or eliminating the cost of repairs.

DARPA hopes whoever picks up the ELM government contract can figure out how to make building materials with genetics designed specifically for construction projects. As the organization explains it:

"The long-term objective of the ELM program is to develop an ability to engineer structural properties directly into the genomes of biological systems so that neither scaffolds nor external development cues are needed for an organism to realize the desired shape and properties."

Yeah: super cool — if not something straight out of StarCraft.