Saturday, 3 February 2018

Biofilms as construction workers

Biofilms are generally seen as a problem to be eradicated due to the hazards they pose for humans and materials. However, these communities of algae, fungi, or bacteria possess interesting properties both from a scientific and a technical standpoint. A team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes processes from the field of biology that utilize biofilms as 'construction workers' to create structural templates for new materials that possess the properties of natural materials. In the past, this was only possible to a limited extent.

Whether it is wood, bone, mother of pearl, or teeth -- over millions of years, these materials have been optimized via evolution according to the principle of adapted stability with the lowest possible weight. Nature has provided the blueprints for many technical developments. Examples include airplane wings, zippers, and surface sealants using a lotus effect. However, reverse engineering replicas cannot reproduce the structural complexity of the original in nature.

As the interface between biology and technology, bionics utilizes methods and systems found in nature to provide solutions to technical problems. When it was still limited to using natural shapes, e.g. as templates for development in the design of airplane wings or ship hulls, the problems remained manageable. However, imitating the material properties of natural construction materials is an entirely different story. This is because they are found in the inner structures, where fibers are linked to each other over several orders of magnitude and across various hierarchical levels.


Steffi Deuerling, Sabine Kugler, Moritz Klotz, Cordt Zollfrank, Daniel Van Opdenbosch. A Perspective on Bio-Mediated Material Structuring. Advanced Materials, 2017; 1703656 DOI: 10.1002/adma.201703656

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

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