Biofilm, the smooth slimy materials which bacteria create can be found on the plaques on our teeth could be put to better use according to MIT Engineers. The engineering buffs at MIT have been successful in creating Biofilms by combining bacterial cells along with inorganic materials like gold nano particles which can be made to conduct electricity. The ultimate aim is to build photovoltaic solar panels or even to act as biosensors which could sense toxins.

The hybrid biofilms feature the characteristics of the living cells and can reproduce and also form structures and react to the external environment. It will also feature metals which will be good conductors of electricity. The research was published in the March 23 edition of th journal Nature Materials. The research was lead by Timothy Lu who is an assistant professor of electrical engineering.

Incidentally the researchers used the E Coli bacteria which are able to make a biofilm of fibers which enabled the easy attachment of metal particles on its surface. The fibers could be modified by addition of peptides which makes it able to trap nano particle of Gold as well as a semiconductor, all in nano size. The final result is a bio film which could also conduct electricity.

Timothy Lu says, “It’s an interesting way of thinking about materials synthesis, which is very different from what people do now, which is usually a top-down approach

One of the accrued advantages of using a biofilm to construct circuitry is that the cells can communicate with the other cells in structuring and reshaping the composition of the biofilm according to the non living materials involved.

Lu further added, “It’s a really simple system but what happens over time is you get curli that’s increasingly labeled by gold particles. It shows that indeed you can make cells that talk to each other and they can change the composition of the material over time. Ultimately, we hope to emulate how natural systems, like bone, form. No one tells bone what to do, but it generates a material in response to environmental signals.”

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