To date, synthetic biology has been mainly focused on reproducing existing compounds and materials with biomanufacturing. Think of engineering yeast to produce anti-malarial drugs, or bacteria producing spider silk. But as our guest — Professor Tom Ellis of Imperial College London — argues, the future of synthetic biology is in creating materials with fundamentally new and distinct functions. Imagine, a spider silk rope that it is interwoven with cells that can catalyze the dissolution of that rope in certain circumstances. Host Lauren Richardson and a16z bio deal team partner Judy Savitskaya talk to Dr. Ellis about his group’s work creating a prototype of an engineered living material (ELM) that can be iterated on and programmed with a huge array of different functions, which was recently published in the the article “Living materials with programmable functionalities grown from engineered microbial co-cultures” by Charlie Gilbert, Tzu-Chieh Tang, Wolfgang Ott, Brandon A. Dorr, William M. Shaw, George L. Sun, Timothy K. Lu & Tom Ellis in Nature Materials. They also cover how ELMs can disrupt established markets and their varied uses in industry, healthcare, fashion, consumer products, and even potentially in space travel.
February 23, 2021