Imagine a composite with a remarkable strength to weight ratio. Cheap to produce and from a sustainable source, the polymer could be used by engineers in the aeronautic and automotive industries. Weight could be cut by ten per cent, with acceleration enhanced and fuel efficiency improved significantly. Imagine a strong resin and hardener that dried in minutes without harmful fumes. Manufacturing could be sped up and workers wouldn’t be exposed to dangerous volatiles.
These aren’t high-tech visions of the future but examples of industrial biotechnology – the use of living cells to produce chemicals. Biotechnology is a thriving, innovative sector. Through harnessing nanoscopic factories in bacterial, algal and plant cells we can produce new polymers and chemical ingredients. But we’re not constrained by the molecules that occur naturally in these organisms. Engineers are working alongside biologists to design materials of the future.