Review

Biological composites—complex structures for functional diversity

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Science  02 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6414, pp. 543-547
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat8297

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Abstract

The bulk of Earth’s biological materials consist of few base substances—essentially proteins, polysaccharides, and minerals—that assemble into large varieties of structures. Multifunctionality arises naturally from this structural complexity: An example is the combination of rigidity and flexibility in protein-based teeth of the squid sucker ring. Other examples are time-delayed actuation in plant seed pods triggered by environmental signals, such as fire and water, and surface nanostructures that combine light manipulation with mechanical protection or water repellency. Bioinspired engineering transfers some of these structural principles into technically more relevant base materials to obtain new, often unexpected combinations of material properties. Less appreciated is the huge potential of using bioinspired structural complexity to avoid unnecessary chemical diversity, enabling easier recycling and, thus, a more sustainable materials economy.

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