Many protein species produced in recombinant bacteria aggregate as insoluble protein clusters named inclusion bodies (IBs). IBs are discarded from further processing or are eventually used as a pure protein source for in vitro refolding. Although usually considered as waste byproducts of protein production, recent insights into the physiology of recombinant bacteria and the molecular architecture of IBs have revealed that these protein particles are unexpected functional materials. In this Opinion article, we present the relevant mechanical properties of IBs and discuss the ways in which they can be explored as biocompatible nanostructured materials, mainly, but not exclusively, in biocatalysis and tissue engineering. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.