Form from within: scaling up self-constructing biological architectures through a novel application of synthetic morphogenesis
I present Architectures from Staged Self-assembly of Morphogenetic Building Elements (ASSEMBLE). This novel biofabrication method enables self-constructing biological structures at meters scale by merging the cutting-edge biological engineering method of synthetic morphogenesis with the centuries-old architectural method of discrete assembly.
ASSEMBLE arose from a recognition that in nature, simple building blocks, such as biological cells, self-organize into higher-order, complex structures with no descriptive blueprints at hand and no intelligent designer telling them what to do. Instead, they construct themselves through rules encoded in their DNA. By editing these rules, synthetic biologists can now program living cells to build themselves into higher-order structures by design, via the process of synthetic morphogenesis. However, currently, the biggest programmable structures we are able to develop in this way are merely on the order of millimeters, which is too small for the architectural practice. ASSEMBLE bridges this gap by employing these millimeter-scale structures as distinct morphogenetic building elements that can self-assemble with one another through a set of physical assembly cues they are programmed grow on their surfaces. In this way, ASSEMBLE enables us to exploit biological cells as an infinite supply of building material, into which we can directly encode our desired structural specifications through the physical interface of DNA. The resulting self-constructing architectures not only can help us overcome the limitations of current architectural fabrication methods on Earth, but can also unlock novel construction practices in extreme environments, such as the outer space.
Current construction methods fall short in enabling us to construct in outer space because they require the transportation of hefty machinery and materials, making spacecrafts’ gravitational exit impossible. Instead, using the biofabrication method ASSEMBLE, we can leave the Earth’s orbit with only a tube of engineered cells, grow them into architectural building blocks throughout the journey, and thereby build inhabitable structures in the extra-terrestrial destination.