The strongest synthetic materials are often those that intentionally mimic nature.
One natural substance scientists have looked to in creating synthetic materials is nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl. An exceptionally tough, stiff material produced by some mollusks and serving as their inner shell layer, it also comprises the outer layer of pearls, giving them their lustrous shine.
But while nacre’s unique properties make it an ideal inspiration in the creation of synthetic materials, most methods used to produce artificial nacre are complex and energy intensive.
Now, a biologist at the University of Rochester has invented an inexpensive and environmentally friendly method for making artificial nacre using an innovative component: bacteria. The artificial nacre created by Anne S. Meyer, an associate professor of biology at Rochester, and her colleagues is made of biologically produced materials and has the toughness of natural nacre, while also being stiff and, surprisingly, bendable.
The method used to create the novel material could lead to new applications in medicine, engineering—and even constructing buildings on the moon.