Biomimetic Approaches to the Design of Functional, Self-Assembling Systems


George M. Whitesides Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University

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Successful solutions to many problems in science and technology have emerged by extracting design or strategy from biology, and applying it in a nonbiological context. The use of biomimetic approaches is particularly well suited when designing self-assembling functional systems because life—from single cells to complex, multicellular organisms—demonstrates an enormous number of successful, functional designs and because living systems assemble themselves. Cells and organisms consist of collections of molecular and supramolecular structures that perform a range of complex functions, including molecular recognition, ligand binding, signal transduction, information storage and processing, and energy conversion. The molecular organization of biological structures also underpins their mechanical properties. In addition, certain of these structures can self-heal, self-repair, and self-replicate.