Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara have developed a process to organically grow proteins that could one day be applied to produce silicon dioxide for computer chips or titanium dioxide for solar cells. The team, led by professor emeritus Daniel Morse, began by creating artificial cells with a plastic bead nucleus inside an oil membrane and then attached the DNA of a silica-forming protein. After soaking these artificial cells in silicon or titanium molecules, researchers found that in some cases the cells had evolved a new protein that can be used to create sheets of these fibers. Scientists look to use this technique to create other proteins with previously unseen structures, and to further optimize the performance of these materials as semiconductors. While the difficulty of producing these materials on a large scale has not yet been addressed, researchers write that they hope to control the evolution of these proteins — akin to natural selection for materials — "to advance human technologies."