In Brief
DARPA has just launched the Engineering Living Materials program, with a vision to create building materials that grow on-site. The materials would be used to construct buildings that repair themselves and adapt to the environment.

DARPA’s Challenge

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has certainly had its hand in making the gizmos and gadgets we enjoy into a reality. The agency is still hard at work blazing the trail for the tech of the future, issuing challenges for the creation of the most advanced things on this Earth.

It has issued a new challenges, this time in the field of construction. DARPA has just announced the Engineering Living Materials program, a program to develop building materials that grow on site, repair themselves, and even adapt to the environment. “The vision of the ELM program is to grow materials on demand where they are needed,” said ELM program manager, Justin Gallivan, in a press release. “Imagine that instead of shipping finished materials, we can ship precursors and rapidly grow them on site using local resources.”

From Fiction to Fact

While this seems like a tall order, some of the precursor technologies are already here. There have been great strides in the field of 3D-printing, with finished products appearing from scratch. This sort of printing has actually transitioned to living tissue:

Other than 3D printing of living tissue, there has also been self-repairing concrete, biologically sourced structural materials made from inexpensive feedstocks, packing materials derived from fungal mycelium, and building blocks made from bacteria and sand. So, get excited about the inevitable Youtube channel of self-reparing condos.

ELM hopes to combine these technologies, creating non-living scaffolds that support living tissue and engineered cells. The end goal is that these scaffolds are no longer needed, that biological cells can be genetically engineered to have these structural properties.

DARPA sees that research on developmental pathways and three-dimensional development of multicellular systems will be key to this challenge.