"Researchers have only scratched the surface of the potential of engineered living materials."
If we want to build a sustainable future, we may have to revisit what it is we're actually building things out of.
And though the science around the idea is just beginning to emerge, one prime candidate may be using actual living materials like fungus. Or concrete churned out by tiny microbial factories. Will Srubar, a University of Colorado Boulder materials and engineering researcher, argues in a new The Conversation essay that, living, self-growing, and self-repairing structures may be our best bet to green up the construction industry's act.
"Living architecture is moving from the realm of science fiction into the laboratory as interdisciplinary teams of researchers turn living cells into microscopic factories," wrote Srubar, who's published a number of academic papers on living materials over the last five months.
Developing living materials, supposedly, wouldn't just cut financial costs of repairs and assembly, but also, do away with many of the environmental tolls of manufacturing conventional building materials.
Of course, pivoting to living materials would require a massive paradigm shift, even if scientists figured out how to make these materials both practical and cost-effective.
"If humanity had a blank landscape, how would people build things? Knowing what scientists know now, I’m certain that we would not burn limestone to make cement, mine ore to make steel or melt sand to make glass," Srubar wrote.
If we had a chance to do it all over again with the scientific knowledge we've already amassed, there would be real potential to build a more sustainable world. For now, the challenge of the moment remain figuring out how to change the one we've got.
READ MORE: Buildings grown by bacteria – new research is finding ways to turn cells into mini-factories for materials [The Conversation]
More on living materials: These Researchers Want You to Live In a Fungus Megastructure