Poets and philosophers have, through the ages, viewed organisms as the embodiment of the mysterious “Vital Force,” a unique non-earthly element required for the functioning of life processes.
Biologists have seen, in living organisms, an adaptive, self-reproducing, evolving collection of molecules acting solely according to the laws of chemistry and physics.
Historians speak of the iron or bronze ages and, more recently of the plastics (polymers) and the silicon ages. Materials science departments speak of metals, alloys, ceramics, and perhaps polymers—but not of genes.
The “common man” has, it must be admitted, seen living organisms as a source of useful and important materials—wood for building; cotton, silk, and other fibers for textiles; horn, shell, and bone for tools and weapons; fats for lubricants; fur for clothing
But, in fact, few of us now think of materials when we think of living things. Neither do we think of DNA, protein, and carbohydrates when we think of materials.
No, biologists have not been blackballed by materials scientists, chemists, and physicists. Until recently, they neither understood the processes by which life produces its materials nor even conceived of manipulating those processes to tailor the properties of the materials to our needs. Only within the past few years has the “biological revolution” expanded our understanding of the molecular basis for biological phenomena and our ability to control them. It is only now, for the first time, that one can point to a legitimate field of science based on mimicking, adapting, and controlling biological systems with the goal of producing novel materials with important, unique, and useful properties.