But some of the most original work in science is now being done by biomimeticians who happily combine natural structures with technical ones. Angela Belcher at MIT works with bacteriophages. Genetic engineering techniques have enabled scientists to test millions of random peptide sequences (peptides are short sequences of amino acids; effectively mini-proteins), in a process known as bio-panning, to see if any have the ability to interact with inorganic computer components. The test peptide sequences are created on the surface of the phage heads.
Belcher has now developed a whole array of electronic components, always using the phage as the template. Sometimes the phage itself is sacrificed, burnt off, leaving the metal and mineral components in place, sometimes there is no need to do this. In a charming graphic twist on the vegetable/mineral interface, Belcher has a schematic depicting the process in which the phage is stylized as a rocket (very like a World War V2). This is the fur-lined teacup in reverse: a living, organic creature tricked out as a technical device.