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European Innovation Council
Call for proposalsClosed

EIC Pathfinder challenge: Engineered living materials


Publication date
Opening date
Deadline model
Deadline date
27 October 2021, 17:00 (CEST)


Engineered living materials (ELMs) are composed, either entirely or partly, of living cells. ELMs entirely composed of living cells are called biological ELMs and they self-assemble via a bottom-up process – e.g. synthetic morphogenesis for organoids’ production. ELMs only partly composed of living cells are called hybrid living materials (HLMs) and are built with a top-down process with integrated polymers or scaffolds. In both cases, the cellular components extract energy from the environment to form or assemble the material itself, and to adapt its morphology and function to environmental stimuli. This endows these materials with a combination of properties not present in any non-living material: self-regeneration, adaptation to environmental clues, longevity and environmental sustainability. By being alive, ELMs represent a fundamental change in materials’ production and performance, enabling new, better or similar functionalities, compared to traditional materials but with decreased costs and environmental impact. ELMs have the potential to transform virtually every modern endeavour from healthcare to infrastructures to transportation.

With this Pathfinder ELMs Challenge the EIC seeks to seize the opportunity to position strategically Europe at the forefront of the ELMs field, which is still in its infancy. This Pathfinder Challenge aims to overcome the technological challenges to harness the engineering potential of nature for materials’ production. The specific objectives of this call are to support the development of new technologies and platforms enabling the controlled production of made-on-demand living materials with multiple predictable dynamic functionalities, shapes and scales; and to build a community of researchers and innovators in ELMs. Reaching these objectives requires a research team that strongly integrates, among others and not exclusively, expertise in synthetic biology, materials engineering, control engineering, artificial intelligence, synthetic or engineered morphogenesis as well as ethical, legal and social aspects (ELSA).

Projects under this call are expected to develop technologies for the production of a minimum of two different living materials (i.e. with different applications, scale - 10 x difference- and cellular composition). The specific expected outcomes depending on the choice of the ELM production process (top-down or bottom-up) are:

  • a proof of principle of technologies far beyond the current state-of-the-art enabling the production of a minimum of two novel biological ELMs bigger than 1 cm in all dimensions by programmable and controlled synthetic or engineered morphogenesis (whether with eukaryotic or prokaryotic cells);


  • a laboratory validated, automated and computer-aided design-build-test-learn (DBTL) platform far beyond the current state-of-the-art able to produce a minimum of two novel HLMs in multiple scales with enhanced or unprecedented properties.

Projects are strongly encouraged to consider multi-cellular ELMs. They are also encouraged to develop technologies that can be easily generalizable and adapted for the production of a broad range of ELMs from different cells.

Projects funded under this call are also expected to collaborate and contribute to the wider ethical, societal and regulatory debate.

Specific conditions for this challenge

In order to apply, your proposal must plan to validate the technologies by producing at least two different living materials (i.e. with different applications, scale - 10 x difference- and cellular composition). These must not be a derivative of each other. The material needs to be formed by living cells as per the definition of ELMs in the introduction of this call. Alternatively, if a synthetic cell is used, the synthetic cell must have, prior to the start of the project, a demonstrated ability (via a peer-reviewed scientific publication) of cellular reproduction via cell division and adaptation to environmental clues.

Your proposal also needs to define an integrative approach to assess the needs and implications of the technologies and their limits, including ethical and regulatory requirements.

For more details, see the EIC Work Programme 2021 and the relevant Challenge Guide.

How to apply

In order to apply, your proposal must meet the general as well as possible specific eligibility requirements for a specific Challenge. Please check for particular elements (e.g. specific application focus or technology) in the respective challenge chapter below. 

The Pathfinder Challenges support collaborative research and innovation from consortia or applications from single legal entities (unless stated otherwise in the specific challenge chapter). In case of a consortium your proposal must be submitted by the coordinator on behalf of the consortium that includes at least two independent legal entities. The legal entities may for example be universities, research organisations, SMEs, start-ups, natural persons. In the case of mono-beneficiary projects, mid-caps and larger companies will not be permitted. 

The call deadline for submitting your proposal is 27 October 2021 at 17h00 Brussels local time. You must submit your proposal via the European Funding & Tender Opportunities Portal.

Sections 1 to 3 of the part B of your proposal, corresponding respectively to the evaluation criteria Excellence, Impact, and Quality and Efficiency of the Implementation, must consist of a maximum of 25 A4 pages. 

You will be informed about the outcome of the evaluation 5 months after call deadline (indicative), and your grant agreement will be signed by 8 months after call deadline (indicative).


15 JUNE 2021
Challenge Guide Engineered Living Materials - Part I
15 JUNE 2021
Challenge Guide - Part II