the goal of making cells produce products of societal and economic value. Most of the focus today is on products of interest to the pharmaceutical industry. Related approaches may also be of value for the synthesis of new biomolecular materials.

While significant progress has been made, the potential future impact of understanding and utilizing functional biomolecular materials is enormous. Imagine that one could …

  • Engineer biological enzymes to convert organic matter to usable fuels with very high efficiency in order to substantially reduce dependence on foreign sources of fuel.

  • Manipulate biomolecular recognition events to create a biosensor with no false alarms that responds with sensitivity and specificity, mitigating threats before people or other key assets are exposed.

  • Create new arrays of medical diagnostic assays that can predict susceptibility to and progression of disease.

  • Deploy new materials that will protect people and material assets from chemical and biological contamination.

  • Design and fabricate new materials that capture the superlative properties of adhesion in a gecko foot or the elegant strength in design of a diatom or mollusk shell.

These seemingly futuristic touchstones represent some of the future impact that could be realized through the understanding and exploitation of functional properties of biomolecular materials. Following discussion of certain areas of research, specific challenges and opportunities are outlined at the end of this chapter.


Life requires energy and the continual conversion of energy from one form to another. Biological systems have adopted diverse means by which to convert between different forms of energy in order to compete and survive. These unique, adaptive, energy-converting properties of biomolecules have inspired biomaterial scientists. There have been great advances in the understanding of functional biomolecular processes that efficiently convert energy in biological systems. These include the chemical conversion of high-energy-containing materials such as polysaccharides (one of which is cellulose) into fuels, the production of electrical energy with enzymes for fuel cell or battery applications, the conversion of light energy into chemical energy in photosynthesis, and the conversion of chemical to mechanical energy by biological motor proteins.

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