output signal. Current research on designer biological sensors whose physical states change significantly when they bind to their target may solve this problem. A specific challenge will be to create a sensor that detects engineered as opposed to natural threats.
Biology presents many examples of materials able to work under extraordinary conditions. The mechanisms that allow geckos to walk on a ceiling and lotus leaves to be self-cleaning are being revealed, as are many of the mechanisms used by other smart biological materials. These revelations may allow scientists and engineers to synthesize improved materials for specific applications.
Modern polymeric materials serve mainly structural purposes—as plastics, clothing, paints and surface coverings, for example. They are mainly composed of repeats of a single type of monomer unit. The future will see materials that mimic the more flexible sequence-structure-property relationships of biopolymers.
Populations of living organisms sometimes seem to reengineer themselves, evolving to meet new challenges. Likewise, individuals can adapt to environmental pressures. Current research is aimed at understanding these strategies. Scientists and engineers may someday be able to use these strategies to develop new materials that correspondingly mimic the ability to evolve and adapt.
The exciting current state of research in biomolecular processes and materials has been powered by new experimental and computational tools for interrogating complex systems at a high level of detail. Further advances in the development and application of these tools are crucial to the advancement of the field.