Building that Grow On You?

"DARPA is launching the Engineered Living Materials (ELM) program with a goal of creating a new class of materials that combines the structural properties of traditional building materials with attributes of living systems. Living materials represent a new opportunity to leverage engineered biology to solve existing problems associated with the construction and maintenance of built environments, and to create new capabilities to craft smart infrastructure that dynamically responds to its surroundings."

What a clever acronym, ELM.  Imagine, plant a few seeds and 75 years later you can harvest the lumber and build with it.  That's not what the US Army is considering, however.

“The vision of the ELM program is to grow materials on demand where they are needed,” said ELM program manager Justin Gallivan. “Imagine that instead of shipping finished materials, we can ship precursors and rapidly grow them on site using local resources. And, since the materials will be alive, they will be able to respond to changes in their environment and heal themselves in response to damage.”

With DARPA's mission of building better killing systems, I doubt their first agenda is providing shelter to populations displaced by global warming. But maybe they deserve the benefit of the doubt.  Consider, for example,

-- Spreading a tarp seeded with spores that grow into a thick moss bed that insulates and even supports the structure.

-- Quick growing, thorny vines that grow into almost impregnable fences, but more quickly than the bougainvillea or cactus hedges now used for that purpose.

-- Airport runways that don't need mowing.

-- Toilets that make it possible to actually "shit bricks".

Frankly, most of the stuff DARPA does terrifies me, and this program is no exception.

"The long-term objective of the ELM program is to develop an ability to engineer structural properties directly into the genomes of biological systems..." (Emphasis added.) 

In other words, they propose to genetically modify ecosystems for the battlefield.  But don't worry,

"Work on ELM will be... carried out in controlled laboratory settings. DARPA does not anticipate environmental release during the program." 

The same reassurance was offered about atomic bombs.

More about ELM can be found at: