tional materials through continued understanding and exploitation of biological processes is enormous. In this chapter, specific examples of research on biomolecular processes are discussed. The focus of the chapter is on learning the principles of biomolecular processes, which could then be used to design biomolecular materials.

Imagine that one could …

  • Create sensors having the exquisite sensitivity and accuracy of the immune system, able to detect minute quantities of molecules with a very high precision.

  • Create new biomolecular materials with highly adaptable and controllable properties based on the mechanical design principles of cells, where biomolecular motors can actively control the stiffness of the networks that give the cell its rigidity.

  • Assemble new materials with the incredibly detailed precision made possible by interactions that result from the sequence of oligonucleotides.

  • Engineer advanced materials that mimic evolution and adapt their properties to address new environmental pressures or to self-heal disruptions.

  • Develop advanced materials that self-replicate, storing structure and function information in the materials themselves, just as is done in the genomes of all living species.

These revolutionary scientific goals represent the future impact of the new materials that will be possible through increased understanding and utilization of biomolecular processes. Following discussion of certain areas of research, specific challenges and opportunities are discussed at the end of this chapter.


Nature has evolved impressive means to sense and respond to a wide variety of stimuli. For example, in response to many external stimuli, individual cells can modulate their mechanical properties, shape, growth rate, motility, secretory functions, and the biochemical and charge characteristics of their surfaces. The extraordinary precision with which they sense environmental cues and the exquisite control with which they modulate their properties to affect specific functions is not matched by any synthetic material. The ability to even crudely mimic this ability of cells is expected to find application in a myriad of technologies.

The key process that facilitates this precision, sensitivity, and selectivity, and the exquisite control in response, is recognition based on the many weak but highly cooperative interactions that are buttressed by positive and negative feedback modules spanning a spectrum of time and length scales. Scientific understanding of the

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