Information for Researchers, No. 45 | June 1, 2023

Priority Programme “Engineered Living Materials with Adaptive Functions” (SPP 2451)

In 2023, the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme “Engineered Living Materials with Adaptive Functions” (SPP 2451). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period.

The challenge

Natural living materials grow following information stored in their genetic code. They also undergo continuous and autonomous re-modelling in response to external factors and adapt their performance to new solicitations. Such properties are desirable in many technical materials, but they are extremely difficult to realise with non-living matter. In the SPP “Engineered Living Materials with Adaptive Functions”, new materials with programmable and adaptive capabilities will be realised by combining living organisms with materials in a synergistic way. Materials with advanced property combinations like responsiveness to multiple factors, resilience or evolvability are envisioned.

To unfold the potential of the synergistic engineering of non-living and living components, researchers in materials science and in biology/bioengineering need to work together. These communities should collaborate in the SPP 2451 to address some of the following research questions:

  • How can materials be designed to allow sustained cellular survival and function?
  • How can synthetic biology tools be interfaced with materials?
  • How can processing technologies be made compatible with living cells?
  • Which parameters and methods are required to characterise the dynamic behaviour of ELMs?
  • What are the requirements for the standardised scale-up of ELM production?
  • What are the potential risks and mitigation strategies for responsible application of ELMs in the future?

Scope of the Programme

Augmenting the function of materials with living matter is expected to yield major innovations. Projects in the SPP will target the development of ELMs with adaptive functions as a long-term vision. The projects should go beyond proof-of-concept studies (i.e. straightforward combinations of engineered organisms and matrices). Within the first funding period, the focus will be on foundational approaches and technologies for designing, programming, synthesising and analysing living materials with adaptive function and responsible use. Each application is expected to address at least two of the following topics:

  • Development of design rules for materials to sustain and regulate cell survival, confinement and function, and demonstrators that validate them.
  • Development and validation of synthetic biological technologies to render living materials adaptive to desired stimuli.
  • Development of material precursors and morphologies coupled to processing technologies (e.g., 3D printing) that can realise and upscale multi-material ELMs
  • Development and validation of methods to characterise the dynamic nature of ELMs.
  • Research on the responsible and safe use of ELMs

ELMs in the SPP should have a clear added value vs. non-living material alternatives. The functionality and potential application scenarios for ELMs in the SPP are open to creativity, as well as the nature of the engineered living organism or matrix. With regard to the choice of the material matrix or the organisms, there are no limitations. The SPP welcomes all type of adaptive property or property combinations in the envisioned ELMs.

In order to keep the SPP focused, the following research topics are excluded: tissue engineering in a classical regenerative medicine context, biohybrid materials with no function-relevant sensing/adaptation capability, biotechnological growth of materials without considering an adaptive function, and single-cell-devices without functional integration into a material.

All proposals are expected to include at least two PIs with complementing expertise. The collaboration partners should target a common goal. We expect most contributions to come from interactions between the disciplines of materials science, synthetic biology, biophysics, bioinformatics and biotechnology, microbiology, medical and environmental sciences, as well as contributions from law and ethics. Since the field is at the early stage of development, in the first funding period we expect collaborative proposals from applicants with relevant own expertise for the project, but not necessarily with previous collaboration records.

Preparatory Workshop

Researchers who are interested in submitting a project proposal are invited to a preparatory workshop hosted by the programme committee from 10 July at 13:00 to 11 July 2023 at 15:00 in Saarbrücken, with the possibility to join online as well. Attendees will be invited to shortly present their research idea and there will be opportunities for discussion, networking, and identifying collaboration partners. The workshop will also contain a few invited contributions from experts in the field outside Germany. In this workshop, we will provide further information on the goals, background and structure of the SPP. Participation in this workshop is not a prerequisite but is highly recommended for the submission of project proposals. Participants from the DFG Workshop for Early Career Investigators on Engineered Living Materials are explicitly encouraged to submit their follow-up proposals.

Researchers in the workshop are requested to submit a short outline of their project idea (one page maximum) by 20 June 2023 through the SPP 2451 website. Additional information to the workshop will be provided through the webpage well before the event.

Proposals must be written in English and submitted to the DFG by 23 October 2023. Please note that proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system. To enter a new project within the existing Priority Programme, go to Proposal Submission – New Project/Draft Proposal – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2451” from the current list of calls.

In preparing your proposal, please review the programme guidelines (DFG form 50.05, section B) and follow the proposal preparation instructions (DFG form 54.01). These forms can either be downloaded from our website or accessed through the elan portal.

Applicants must be registered in elan prior to submitting a proposal to the DFG. If you have not yet registered, please note that you must do so by 10 October 2023 to submit a proposal under this call; registration requests received after this time cannot be considered. You will normally receive confirmation of your registration by the next working day. Note that you will be asked to select the appropriate Priority Programme call during both the registration and the proposal process.

The proposals submitted within the SPP 2451 will be reviewed in a review colloquium in CW 3 2024 in Saarbrücken.

Further Information

More information on the Priority Programme is available under:

The elan system can be accessed at:

DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01 can be downloaded at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme coordinator:

  • Professor Dr. Aránzazu del Campo Bécares
    Leibniz-Institut für Neue Materialien gGmbH (INM) 
    Campus Geb. D 2.2, 66123 Saarbrücken
    phone +49 681 9300510

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:

Programme contact:

Administrative contact: