Bacteria-built house prototype nabs NSF top prize

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In Boston, a miniature prototype house made from plastics produced by bacteria has won the National Science Foundation’s 2026 Idea Machine competition.

Neel Joshi, an associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Northeastern University, tells Phys.org that engineered living materials could improve or replace building materials like plastics and concrete. “The carbon footprint of materials manufactured for our entire built environment is huge,” Joshi says. “Being able to decrease that by following the model of how biology builds things is going to be very important.”

The Idea Machine Competition aims to identify “grand challenges” in order to sharpen America’s future research agenda. Joshi’s entry was among 600 submissions.

“Biology is very good at converting stuff that was useful in one form into another form and reusing all the same raw materials to make something else,” Joshi says. “Anything that you make from a living system is likely going to be more degradable than plastic.”