Material farming: where plant biology meets material science
Human efforts to harness biological systems for producing raw materials dates back to the Neolithic Period (18,000 B.C.). These early achievements and ensuing developments have positioned biological raw fibers as materials of great economic, societal, and technological importance. Current technological advances in material sciences and textiles include the creation of adaptive and responsive materials, wearable technologies, smart textiles, and programmable second “skins”.
The “material farming” approach pioneered in our lab relies on two foundations: 1) the design and synthesis of molecules inspired by biochemical pathways that provide desired functionalities to raw biological materials, and 2) the use of biological systems as efficient and evolutionary optimized factories. This combined approach undergirds the use of plants (e.g. cotton) as “factories” for the biological fabrication of a wide diversity of composite materials with tailored functionalities (e.g. smart textiles) allowing further exploitation of wide range of combinations between molecular design and biological systems.