Engineered Living Materials (ELM)

Funding Agency:
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

The Engineered Living Materials (ELM) program will develop design tools and methods that enable the engineering of structural features into cellular systems that function as living materials, thereby opening up a new design space for construction technology. These methods will be validated through the production of living materials that display hallmarks of biological systems, such as the ability to actively sense and respond to the environment, or to heal after damage. Successful completion of ELM program objectives will require innovations in the ability to functionally unite living components with inert structural materials, to program structural features into living systems, and to extend the scale of synthetic biology building blocks from the molecular to the cellular. The deliverables from this program will comprise a suite of technologies that enable the production of living structural materials tailored to design specifications, such as those provided by architects and builders.


o Proposal Abstract Due Date – September 15, 2016 (Track 2 only) (Strongly encouraged)

o Full Proposal Due Dates – September 27, 2016 (Track 1), November 10, 2016 (Track 2)

Agency Website

Areas of Interest

Track 1: Hybrid-ELM (48-month Period of Performance)

The major objective of ELM Track 1 is to develop methods for adding living cells to scaffolding materials such that the resulting hybrid material is both structurally sound, and exhibits desirable characteristics of living things. Just as is the case with natural living structural materials, such as wood or bone, the engineered living hybrid materials need not contain a large percentage of living cells; however, it is essential that the viability of the living components be maintained within the environment for which the final product is designed to be used, and that the cells contribute significantly to the function of the final product. DARPA is not interested in approaches that result in drop-in replacements for existing building materials (i.e., materials that do not have capabilities beyond today’s building materials). Moreover, DARPA is not interested in funding the development of living materials for medical applications, such as tissue engineering. 

Track 2: Programmable-ELM (24-month Period of Performance)

The major objective of ELM Track 2 is to explore methods for programming structural features into multicellular biological systems through genetic engineering. If successful, the technologies developed in Track 2 of the ELM program will lead to the ability to grow living structural materials to design specifications from a single progenitor cell, such as a seed. Unlike Track 1 efforts, which are directed at specific applications, Track 2 is meant to support basic research projects that answer fundamental questions about how assemblies of cells form higher-order structures, and to explore new methodology for encoding developmental programs at the genetic level. The foundational knowledge being sought through this program track will likely require collaborative efforts from members of the synthetic biology, computer science, and developmental biology communities. Proposers are strongly encouraged to form teams that include experts in each of these areas, and teaming strategies should be specifically addressed in the proposal.

Funding Type





Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental & Life Sciences
Medical - Basic Science

External Deadline

September 27, 2016