Responsive Polymer Networks Controlled via Bacteria

Keitz Seed

Biological tissues interpret environmental signals through genetic circuits to facilitate self-repair, reconfiguration, and other mesoscale remodeling functions. We propose that synthetic polymer networks, such as hydrogels, can be endowed with similar properties by leveraging bacteria as responsive elements that control mesoscale mechanical structure. As a MRSEC seed, we will examine changes in hydrogel mechanical structure that occur as a result of bacteria-controlled cross-linking. Specifically, we will uncover the chemical and biological factors that govern polymerization rates, cross-linking density, and hydrogel mechanics. Results from the seed research will allow us to develop simple genetic circuits to control hydrogel mechanical properties. Finally, our overall goal is to implement more advanced circuits that allow bacteria to conduct mesoscale remodeling functions in soft materials. Ultimately, our work will combine the responsiveness of biological systems with the flexibility of synthetic polymer structure to provide fundamental insights into materials science with applications in photonics, water purification, energy storage, and additive manufacturing.