The US military agency that funds blue skies research programmes has launched one that aims to create building materials that can be "grown" in situ.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is to fund a number of projects under the heading of "engineered living materials" (ELM).
The programme aims to use "living" biological materials such as bone, skin, bark and coral that can be "grown where needed, self-repair when damaged and respond to changes in their surroundings".
Justin Gallivan, ELM’s programme manager, said: "Imagine that instead of shipping finished materials, we can ship precursors and rapidly grow them on site using local resources.
"Since the materials will be alive, they will be able to respond to changes in their environment and heal themselves in response to damage."
There are some systems in existence that use materials derived from fungus, bacteria and sand, but ELM says they "exhibit few of their components’ original biological advantages" and are used to fit in with traditional construction methods.
The programme will look to merge the best features of these technologies and combine them with breakthroughs in 3D printing to "create hybrid materials composed of non-living scaffolds that give structure to and support the long-term viability of engineered living cells".
Ultimately, this will allow engineers to implant structural properties "directly into the genomes of biological systems so that neither scaffolds nor external development cues are needed for an organism to realise the desired shape and properties".
It adds that to achieve this goal will require "significant breakthroughs in scientists’ understanding of developmental pathways and how pathways direct the spatial development of multicellular systems".
Further details of the programme’s objectives can be seen here.
Image via DARPA