42 results for “Bio Design”

Interview: Pirjo Kääriäinen on collaboration and the new ecological biomateriality

Freya Hutchings
December 12th 2019

Meet Pirjo Kääriäinen, professor of design driven fibre innovation at Aalto University, Finland. Kääriäinen founded CHEMARTS—a collaborative program at the university that brings students from different disciplines together to experiment with new material processes—to explore alternative applications for bio-based materials.

Having a extensive knowledge of the Finnish textile industry, it’s fair to say Kääriäinen is an expert in the field. She possesses a valuable bank of insights, a clear perspective on how the industry must change, and an inexhaustible passion …

Oded Ezer discusses the future of typography and the importance of dreaming

Freya Hutchings
November 29th 2019

Oded Ezer is a typographer from Israel who never fails to push boundaries, or rather, discard them altogether. Ezer is a rebellious force that swings between commercial and experimental work, often blurring the two realms.

His meaningful yet functional commercial type is always accompanied by an unexpected twist, and his experimental work dives unapologetically into intimate and obscure areas of life, combining developments in scientific and medical fields with the universal medium of type in provocative ways.

In our view, …

This exhibition investigates how humanity will live tomorrow

NextNature.net
November 28th 2019

Occupying the 52nd floor of Tokyo’s Mori Tower, Mori Art Museum is internationally renowned for its visionary approach and highly original curation of contemporary art. The museum’s latest exhibition, Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow, is a comprehensive investigation into the near future, a space in which speculation becomes reality for the duration of your visit.

The exhibition builds a diverse picture of what our world may look like in 20 to …

Next Generation: Biophilic design with Daniel Elkayam

Freya Hutchings
October 29th 2019

This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Meet Daniel Elkayam, a fresh-faced Industrial Design graduate, based in Jerusalem, Israel. For his graduation project MAYMA, Elkayam worked with algae in ways that implore us to "imagine a world in which we harness nature in our favor without harming it," as the …

In conversation with Jalila Essaïdi

Freya Hutchings
October 18th 2019

What do in-vitro human skin, spider silk and cow manure have in common? They are all unlikely materials that can cloth, protect and inspire humans, as realized by award-winning designer Jalila Essaïdi.

Her transdisciplinary work, in which creativity meets scientific exploration, unlocks the potential of weird and wonderful biomaterials to address relevant social and environmental issues.

Essaïdi succeeds in transforming our view of the natural world, by going beyond an aesthetic admiration of nature and challenging us to reconsider the …

Next Generation: Get to know Valerie Daude

Ruben Baart
October 17th 2019

This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Kicking off this series is Valerie Daude, a recent MA graduate in Social Design from the Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE). She is interested in how gut bacteria play critical roles in maintaining our human health in many aspects, and aims to understand how …

Artificial Womb receives €2.9m funding to develop prototype

Freya Hutchings
October 8th 2019

Hooray! The team of researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology (whom we previously collaborated with to design a prototype for an artificial womb) has been awarded a €2.9 million grant to develop a working prototype of their artificial womb.

Artificial womb: a brief explainer

The artificial womb would provide premature babies with artificial respiration in conditions close to a biological womb. Oxygen and nutrients would be delivered to the baby through an umbilical cord-like tube. Inside, the baby would …

Experience bio design at Dutch Design Week 2019

NextNature.net
October 2nd 2019

Bio design crosses the border between the ‘made’ and the ‘born’. Enabling living organisms as essential design elements, it brings us products that adapt, grow, sense and repair themselves. For those new to the subject (and those in the know) who would like to gain (more) experience on what bio design encompasses; this is for you.

The Microbial Vending Machine by Emma van der Leest Bio Design Talks

We've been asked to curate a program for DDW to bring you …

There’s a new urgency for speculative design. Here’s why

Freya Hutchings
September 10th 2019

Pink chickens, synthesized tiger penises and salads grown from bodily fluids - how could they shape our future? In a Next Nature collaboration with the Gogbot Festival, the event’s 2019 conference challenged audience members to suspend their disbelief and imagine. In a series of fascinating presentations from designers, artists, scientists and bio-hackers, participants and audience members alike were invited to consider: what would a world in which biotechnology becomes our next nature look, taste and feel like?

Technology as nature…

Human-animal hybrids are coming and could be used to grow organs for transplant

Mackenzie Graham
August 13th 2019

Around the world thousands of people are on organ donor waiting lists. While some of those people will receive the organ transplants they need in time, the sad reality is that many will die waiting. But controversial new research may provide a way to address this crisis.

Japan has recently overturned its ban on the creation of human-animal hybrids, or “chimeras”, and approved a request by researchers from the University of Tokyo to create a human-mouse hybrid.

Scientists will attempt …

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Meet Pirjo Kääriäinen, professor of design driven fibre innovation at Aalto University, Finland. Kääriäinen founded CHEMARTS—a collaborative program at the university that brings students from different disciplines together to experiment with new material processes—to explore alternative applications for bio-based materials.

Having a extensive knowledge of the Finnish textile industry, it’s fair to say Kääriäinen is an expert in the field. She possesses a valuable bank of insights, a clear perspective on how the industry must change, and an inexhaustible passion for the benefits of collaborative work. Her realistic approach to sustainability is what informs the CHEMARTS program, along with an attitude of openness and respect for change.

What CHEMARTS does

The CHEMARTS program has produced a plethora of interesting outcomes. Participants have offered alternative applications for bio-based materials that make tangible the possibility of producing longer lasting, more sustainable applications for valuable forest resources.

Some examples: students have developed biodegradable tableware, natural sunscreen, wearable garments, home furnishings, wood-based bricks and organic jewelry.

What new possibilities are out there? We caught up with Pirjo Kääriäinen to learn more.

Biodegradable tableware. Designer: Aurora Tani

Hi Pirjo, tell us about CHEMARTS

Chemarts started in 2011, and has been an interdisciplinary collaboration from the beginning. When Aalto University was merged there was a desire to see how different disciplines could really work together.

In setting up the program, we realized that these different disciplines —engineering and design— had a shared interest in materiality, with a particular focus on using wood for new textile fibres.

We received some funding from the university and managed to set up a team; members who not only came from different disciplines but also from different cultural backgrounds and perspectives.

In following, participants from chemical engineering and design set up their courses, came up with the name CHEMARTS, and thought about how to collaborate. It was a really useful, student driven exercise, and we have been developing it ever since.

How do you succeed in creating a common language between these disciplines?

Everyone who has worked on our interdisciplinary projects has said that communication is crucial for how successful the project will be. A shared language has to be created, and it is created and enabled by doing things, by working together, by being hands-on and making together.

There are two crucial elements needed for a fertile collaboration to succeed: The first is willingness; when you have a willingness to do something, you want to understand, and you make an effort to understand. If you don’t have willingness, nothing will happen.

"A shared language has to be created, and it is created and enabled by doing things, by working together, by being hands-on and making together"

The second element you need is respect. If you have respect for the other person’s knowledge, their experience, and them as a person, a true collaboration is enabled.

For example, I don’t want to become a chemist, and I couldn’t because I don’t have the knowledge. I feel I have to leave that area to my colleagues, who are the true experts in that field. However, I believe we can play a little bit in the other’s realms. By combining and respecting each other's deep expertise, we can work together and have true collaborations.

Do designers working in the natural sciences have a different responsibility to those who don’t?

Whether you are working with the natural sciences, or some other field, I think responsibility is becoming more important for designers in general. Of course, designers can’t always have an impact on things inside companies such as sustainability, but they should at least try. Particularly as sustainability is becoming such a dominant issue. I think as designers we need to take a bit more responsibility than we are now.

"I think as designers we need to take a bit more responsibility than we are now."

I do agree that designers working with the natural sciences have a unique responsibility. Working with living things such as bacteria, fungi or microbes is a different story—these are alive.

How we treat and use them is always up for discussion. Ethical discussions need to happen, and designers must be aware and take part in these discussions.

To what extent does the Nordic context inform the work of CHEMARTS?

A lot. Firstly, we have plenty of forest-based materials here. And we know them quite well, as we have been using them industries such as papermaking for over two-hundred years.

We have plenty of wood in Finland, and currently we use it in ways that don’t always make sense. Valuable side streams from the industry are not always utilized efficiently, and some methods of harvesting are not the best for the environment. We have the raw materials but we need to find new ways of using them.

"We have the raw materials but we need to find new ways of using them."

Also keep in mind that the Finnish concept of forest is completely different to, say, the Dutch concept. Nordic forests are totally different. We have a very special legislation in Finland, it’s called ‘every man’s rights’, and it’s a right the means everybody's free to go to the forest and explore, to pick berries and mushrooms.

You should not harm nature but you can go and forage. It’s a beautiful old tradition that we have here, that we hope we can keep. This context comes into our projects too, and although we often use processed wood-based materials they are still very linked to the forest. It’s a wonderful, renewable resource.

How do you navigate the conflict of continuing to extract natural materials, yet at the same time trying to be more sustainable?

With climate change, there is a lot of discussion going on about our forests being valuable carbon sinks, meaning they take in carbon and keep it within them as they grow. This means that we need to work on preserving our forests as carbon sinks, and using what we do take in different ways; using wood for long-life applications, for example creating wooden buildings that continue to store carbon for decades.

The worst possibility is that we use our materials for a short time and then throw them away. We must think about how we can balance environmental and economic needs. Finland can’t afford not to use wood at all, this is not a country rich with different resources. Instead, we can use it in better ways.

How will these bio-based material experiments help us relate to nature in different ways?

I think in general people don’t know what’s in materials these days. If you would ask people on the street, ‘what materials are you wearing?’, most of them will don’t know that they are two-thirds oil, or that they have plastic on their skin.

One value of these projects is that they connect people back to materials in general. We will continue to use materials in our everyday lives and we need to be aware of them and how they exist in our world. If you are not aware of something, you cannot have an impact on that. For example, if you want to select something more sustainable, you can’t unless you know about it.

"People used to sew, repair, make food from scratch - and this makes you think differently."

We feel strongly that when you play with natural materials, when you work with them in intimate and tangible ways, you start to think about the material more deeply, and that’s a kind of trigger or motivation that allows you to think more deeply about nature in general.

And even human nature. One of our students has been exploring how to help children to express feelings through playing with materials. Our minds are deeply linked to our body, and we are looking into how these materials may make us more aware of many things — ourselves, nature, sustainability.

More and more we are not working with our hands. People used to sew, repair, make food from scratch - and this makes you think differently. To do this is to also develop your thinking and your mindset.

Do you feel that CHEMARTS disrupts narratives of humans mastering nature for their own needs? 

I think they have to disrupt this narrative. We can’t go on using nature in the way that we do. There is much more discussion happening about the agency of materials in the era of the Anthropocene.

"We are part of nature ourselves, yet we seem to have forgotten that somehow."

We are part of nature ourselves, yet we seem to have forgotten that somehow. However we nature effects whole environmental systems. By learning about the impact, and how we use systems, we can change the way we use them. We have to change how we are using materials on a large scale, and for a very short time. The whole system is unbearable. 

How to change this?

We can change things by establishing some kind of balance. For example, experiments with natural dyes have become popular recently, but many of the plants we use for them are very rare. What would happen if the whole industry started using them? It would be a catastrophe and would bring new problems. So we need to have a more holistic way of thinking, to ask where do these techniques it come from, is it good for nature? Can we grow it ourselves, for example with bacteria? We should be very careful about what we label as sustainable.

Do you see a move in this direction already?

I see it here in Scandinavia, I may see it in central Europe. But to be honest, if we take a global perspective, not yet. We are living in a bubble, and it’s easy. We live in rich countries and we can afford to be sustainable.

I was recently speaking with someone from Lebanon, and for him the concept of sustainability was not familiar at all. So we have a lot to do in terms of spreading this thinking and knowledge. And of course we need people like Greta Thunberg, we need these kinds of activists to spread awareness.

We can take inspiration from nature, where nothing is too much and nothing is too little. Whatever nature produces, some other element is balancing it and using it. Our ecosystems work in a certain ways so that there is no waste, and that’s a very interesting thing to consider.

"Our ecosystems work in a certain ways so that there is no waste, and that’s a very interesting thing to consider."

For more information about student projects and research by CHEMARTS, follow the links and see for yourself! CHEMARTS will be releasing a Cookbook in 2020, learn more about it here.

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Oded Ezer is a typographer from Israel who never fails to push boundaries, or rather, discard them altogether. Ezer is a rebellious force that swings between commercial and experimental work, often blurring the two realms.

His meaningful yet functional commercial type is always accompanied by an unexpected twist, and his experimental work dives unapologetically into intimate and obscure areas of life, combining developments in scientific and medical fields with the universal medium of type in provocative ways.

In our view, Ezer has truly earned the title of “mad type scientist”, and his oeuvre exists as a “typographic wonderland” where literally anything goes.

Ezer invites us to dream about an alternative future for type - one where text is not confined to a two dimensional existence, viewed merely as an external record of human culture. Instead, he imagines type as an integrated part of ourselves and the living systems that surround us. His typographic transgressions cleverly fuse letters to animate, changeable and embodied systems in ways that give words a whole new communicative power.

Ezer’s latest project, Veining (2019), is a continuation of his never-ending quest to bring type to places it has never been before. He presents us with a future in which self expression meets biology; where words can be surgically implanted under our skin and connected to our veins. Giving the internal workings of the body a new visibility, Ezer further imagines that a fluorescent liquid can be injected into the text-vein hybrid, taking this speculative re-imagining of body modification to the next level.

Time for a chat.

Oded Ezer, Veining (2019)
Oded Ezer, Veining (2019)

Your work often incorporates or imagines developments in biotechnology. Why do you feel a responsibility to explore these future possibilities?

I think that I have a responsibility towards the past, I am only one part of a long chain. Yet I also have a responsibility to the future of typography as a changing field. I feel maybe I can contribute something to this change. Even if my ideas are not realistic sometimes, they add to the discourse that surrounds developments in typography and technology.

"Every step in cultural change started with someone dreaming."

These works add some kind of reason to start a conversation about the future - the future of the field, and the future of our culture. Because typography is just the tip of the iceberg that is culture.

In the same way everyone has a responsibility to their culture, type is so universal that every contribution to the development of the field is also a contribution to the development of our culture. Typography is so fundamental for communicating, and an important brick in our future as human beings. The danger of what I’m doing is that somebody might think it is too far fetched. Someone can say you’re just dreaming - and I’m ok with that. Because every step in cultural change started with someone dreaming.

Oded Ezer, Veining (2019)

Let’s focus on your new project, Veining. How did it begin?

It started as another attempt to try to find new ways of working with type. My basic approach is to understand that the role of type is changing. People are reading less and less. They feel better with videos and visuals more and more. It is similar to the times where humans heard stories, and didn’t read them.

I’m naturally thinking, ok, so how would typography evolve now? That was my starting point: to find new ways of expressing, using and living with type. I had to think, what is the next step that will unite visual and typographic representation? We are living in a time where there has been a dramatic change in the role of type and written words. 

Do you see this change in the role of type as positive?

Conservative people might dislike this change. For some it is a loss. But you look at it afresh, as a possibility of change and redefinition, then it’s like a playground. It’s a good opportunity to play, think, imagine and invent. To contribute your angle. I think the next generation will have absolutely no problem with these kinds of body modifications. It is just a matter of perception, and norms are changing rapidly.

"The next generation will have absolutely no problem with these kinds of body modifications"

Oded Ezer, Veining (2019)
https://vimeo.com/354472098

How would integrating type into the body, as Veining proposes, make us view our bodies differently?

My suggestion is that we will relate to our bodies as a kind of screen, or interface. We can treat our bodies as a format to deliver messages, a tool. Instead of something that is just receiving data, we might use our bodies in ways that actually project data. We already have similar ideas, like using the skin as an interface. But what I'm suggesting is maybe the start of treating the whole three dimensional body as an interface.

"What I'm suggesting is maybe the start of treating the whole three dimensional body as an interface."

In the next phase we may go even deeper. We have so many possibilities and spaces to use under the skin - our muscles and inner organs. This may be a first step in going deeper into the body and treating it as a tool for communication data. It was so important for me that the type would be part of the body, not an additional element - a data communicating element that is part of the happenings of the body. 

For Typo-Plastic Surgeries (2006), Ezer imagined type as part of the human body - a seamless extension of his skin. This typographic fiction succeeds in re-imagining our connections with type, and experiments with the body as a communicator through a subversive hybridization of biology and text.
Oded Ezer, Typo-Plastic Surgeries (2006)

Did you incorporate medical and scientific knowledge into the design process of Veining? 

Usually I do, in the case of Veining I consulted medical surgeons. But I must confess, this is slightly less important to me right now. Because if you really think about veining in terms of practicality, you would learn that at the moment it would be very dangerous to do it. Whether it’s possible is not really the question. What is more important is the concept and the idea that something like this might work in the future. If I am caught up on thinking what is possible, it will stop me from thinking about typography. The idea is much more important than the practicality. 

"Whether it’s possible is not really the question"

In some cases people really want to know how it is possible. A number of people have asked me, why doesn’t the fluorescent liquid travel outside of the word after being injected into the blood? I imagine there would be some kind of gate or barrier within the vein, at the start and end of the word. This would allow the blood to travel through but stop the fluorescent liquid from seeping out. For instance, I know this kind of thing really is being developed by scientists. 

For Biotypography (2005-2006), Ezer morphed ants, rats and sperm cells into transgenic letter-organism hybrids through an imagined biotechnological intervention in their DNA. Here, type becomes a tangible shape-shifter between biology and culture, static and living, organic and technological.
Oded Ezer, Biotypography (2005-2006)

Would you like to be in closer communication with scientific and medical worlds?

I would love to do that. I just haven’t had the chance yet. I would love to have scientists contacting me with the start of an idea, asking to collaborate. I live in a country where there are groundbreaking scientists - Israel is famous for its innovative work. But somehow it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe my work is too artsy for scientists?

"It’s a good thing to consider because scientists often think like artists"

Given the opportunity, I would jump on it! It’s a good thing to consider because scientists often think like artists. I remember when Paolla Antonelli showed Typosperma at MoMA in 2008, she was so happy to find another project by a scientist that talked about some of the same things - but from a completely different angle. 

Oded Ezer, Typosperma (2006-2007)

Is your forward thinking approach something that is intuitive to you? 

I think intuition is a big part of it. Intuition is one of the most important things for going to the next level. But if you have no knowledge behind your intuition, your ideas will never go as deep as they can go. I think that my more academic and artistic knowledge is such a deep and great source for inspiration.

If you have it you can play with that in endless combinations. But if I want to move forward and create something about the future, I have to make the jump. The jump involves taking what I know and combining it with aspects that are new. And to not be afraid of going places where other people haven’t gone yet. I’ve never had this kind of fear - my only fear is to stop creating or to stop thinking. I’m not afraid to look ridiculous, I just want to go further.

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Occupying the 52nd floor of Tokyo’s Mori Tower, Mori Art Museum is internationally renowned for its visionary approach and highly original curation of contemporary art. The museum’s latest exhibition, Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow, is a comprehensive investigation into the near future, a space in which speculation becomes reality for the duration of your visit.

The exhibition builds a diverse picture of what our world may look like in 20 to 30 years. Depicting a range of works that represent utopia, dystopia and everything in between, the showcase will ask fundamental questions about technology in order to establish what our future ought to be.

Here are three must-see highlights:

The momentous expo includes ecoLogicStudio’s “in-human” garden, H.O.R.T.U.S XL, where visitors can witness a productive meeting of biological autonomy and man-made creation. Within the installation, technology and nature find balance; the sculpture's 3D printed structure optimizes the growth of the algae inoculated into it by humans, and in turn, the algae purifies the air that surrounds it, making this living sculpture receptive to both human and non-human life. The project grapples with how developments in synthetic biology and design give the notion of "living" a new artificiality.

Drawing on developments in human reproductive technologies, Ai Hasegawa (an artist featured in our Reprodutopia project) will show her speculative project, Shared Baby. Hasegawa imagines a scenario in which the DNA of multiple parents can be used for the creation of one child, and additionally, the sex of the parent is irrelevant. The project asks, how will family structures be transformed by such developments, and what will the future of humans look like when individuals share the DNA of multiple people?

Delving into the social implications of robotic-human relationships, Vincent Fournier's photographic series, Man Machine, questions how humans will live alongside increasingly anthropomorphic robots. Fournier's aim was to "create a balance between the spectator and the robot, between a process of identification and distance.” In doing so, his photography addresses how the integration of robots in our daily lives sparks both fascination and fear when it comes to social acceptance of this change. 

These works join 100 projects from an impressive selection of visual artists, architects and designers, including Agi Haines, Daan Roosegaarde, Patricia Piccinini, Neri Oxman, XTU Architects and many more.

Read Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft's essay on judaism in relation to the production of laboratory-grown meat.

Next Nature Network also contributes to the exhibition by presenting six Bistro In Vitro meat dishes. Adding our unique perspective to this impressive future forecast, we provide a tangible narrative through which visitors can contemplate how our current food culture may be transformed by the normalization of in vitro meat. Indeed, before we can decide whether we are willing to consume lab-grown alternatives, we must consider how meat may manifest in our lives, our kitchens and on our plates.

What? A near-future forecast disguised as an exhibition 
Where? Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
When? Now, until 29 March 2020

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This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Meet Daniel Elkayam, a fresh-faced Industrial Design graduate, based in Jerusalem, Israel. For his graduation project MAYMA, Elkayam worked with algae in ways that implore us to "imagine a world in which we harness nature in our favor without harming it," as the designer puts it.

Delving into the notion of biophilia — the belief that humans have an inherent tendency to make connections and form relationships with the natural world — Elkayam wonders about how humans relate to the natural world, and how the use of living materials may affect these (often consumerist) relations.

Welcome to the Next Generation: Get to know Daniel Elkayam.

What is MAYMA?

MAYMA consists of three tanks that contain formations of modified microscopic algae. Within each tank, the algae is manipulated into unnatural shapes that replicate man-made material fibres.

With the help of Dr. Filipe Natalio from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Elkayam developed a genetically modified outer shell for the algae which allows for the exchange of gases needed to sustain photosynthesis. The result is a living material that is autonomous yet confined, both natural and unnatural.

Elkayam sees MAYMA as a speculative venture into how we can make new connections with nonhuman life. His work explores how we can look afresh and reconnect with overlooked resources when they are presented in new forms.

The development of his project, and the deeper scientific exploration it involved, allowed the young desiger to see algae in a completely new light — as an untapped resource with dynamic possibilities. MAYMA brings together scientific exploration, human desire and the needs of algae in thought-provoking ways.

"How may our consumption habits change if the materials we use are alive? "

Making the unfamiliar familiar

MAYMA evokes familiar archetypes such as the aquarium, house pants and traditional weaving techniques. Elkayam introduces algae in familiar ways to find a middle ground from which people can connect with it as both a potential resource, and as a living being for which humans have a responsibility. This feeling of responsibility is something Elkayam sees as crucial for living with nature in the future.

The designer seeks to ask, "how will the relationship between human and nature change if humans have to take care of the materials that purify the air around us? Would it be the same as taking care of a pet?" and "how may our consumption habits change if the materials we use are alive? Would this new duty of 'care' make us consume less?"

Questions like these encourage us to think more deeply about our current use of natural materials. For instance, how deeply can we connect with a non-living wooden table? What duty of care do we have for it, beyond preserving its aesthetic appearance? What will happen if the natural materials that surround us are not inanimate, silent witnesses to our everyday lives, but alive, responsive organisms that require our care?

Rethinking biophilia

When we think about connecting with nature in a biophilic sense, Elkayam challenges us to think through the contradictions that surround our relationship with nature.

We may see MAYMA as another example of human mastery over nature, and think to ourselves, what’s different here? This is where Elkayam’s work challenges us to dissect our notions of what is natural.

Elkayam aims to create a productive tension between living and static, domestic and wild, touched and untouched. Projects like MAYMA can encourage us to let go of the romantic ideal of unspoilt nature, and see how scientific exploration can re-enchant us with natural materials in unexpected ways.

"Will organisms such as algae become our next co-designers?"

Algae as co-designers

Elkayam’s project can be seen as tentative investigation into where the boundary lies between nature’s autonomy and humanity's desire for connections with it. It opens up discussion about what kinds of relationships we can form with living organisms when we let go of the idea of nature as pure, static, balanced and harmonic.

If biophilia is about making connections with the natural world, then we must learn to connect with new, not-so-natural nature that surrounds us.

In this case, can connections be made stronger when we can experience natural materials in ways that incorporate the needs and desires of both the human and nonhuman?

Will organisms such as algae become our next co-designers, or perhaps, our next natural companions? 

MAYMA consists of three tanks that contain formations of modified microscopic algae. Within each tank, the algae is manipulated into unnatural shapes that replicate man-made material fibres.

MAYMA is one part of Elkayam's two part graduation series SEAmpathy.

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What do in-vitro human skin, spider silk and cow manure have in common? They are all unlikely materials that can cloth, protect and inspire humans, as realized by award-winning designer Jalila Essaïdi.

Her transdisciplinary work, in which creativity meets scientific exploration, unlocks the potential of weird and wonderful biomaterials to address relevant social and environmental issues.

Essaïdi succeeds in transforming our view of the natural world, by going beyond an aesthetic admiration of nature and challenging us to reconsider the amazing capabilities of less marketable, overlooked and often undesired bioproducts. 

As a resistor of labels, her work is interdisciplinary, and seeks to see design ‘problems’ as opportunities for change. She is specialized in the fields of bio-based materials and biological art (bio-art).

With the Dutch Design Week 2019 just around the corner, we caught up with Essaïdi to discuss her vision on design, how biomimicry informs her work, and her appointment as an ambassador for the leading design event in Northern Europe. But first, let's get you acquainted with her work.

Bullet-proof skin

For one of her infamous projects, Bulletproof Skin’ or ‘2.6g 329m/s, Essaïdi combined in-vitro human skin with spider silk from genetically modified goats. Seems incomprehensible, right? Wrong!

Essaïdi delivered proof of concept in the form of a bioengineered human skin capable of stopping a low-speed bullet. The project received the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award in 2010, which offers funding and support to designers and artists who collaborate with life sciences to produce groundbreaking, interdisciplinary works.

To give you an idea of how it works:

human skin plastic surgery
Human skin, leftover from plastic surgery.
human skin leftover
Human skin with its layer of fat still attached, leftover from plastic surgery.
Isolated dermis
Isolated dermis, used to extract fibroblasts from.
in vitro human skin
Full thickness in vitro human skin
preparing shooting rage
Preparing the shooting rage at the Netherlands Forensic Institute.
bullet in skin
A bullet wrapped in a piece of in vitro skin attached to a block ballistic gell.

Cow-manure couture

For her project Mestic, Essaïdi transformed cow manure into cellulose-derivatives. With this venture came the possibility of forming a local, manure-based economy. By using excess manure for the production of plastics and textiles, this project revolutionized the way we look at waste.

"In nature nothing is considered waste. Yet manure, in its essence, is easily considered the most vile substance we know. Mestic shows that even this most disgusting matter is inherently beautiful."

cow-source-cellulose
The source of cellulose
Cellulose derived from manure
Messo fibres, usuable for the paperindustry
Process in the lab
Mestic® as thin as cigarette rolling paper
Viscose made from mestic®

Behind the materials

While the above designs are characterized by the use of unconventional materials, Essaïdi’s works always go deeper to address wider issues.

Bulletproof Skin, for example, is about the relativity and dual nature of security. The work forms a response to the culture of fear that has emerged from news feeds and social media channels that manipulate our feelings of safety.

Additionally, Mestic strikes at the heart of our aversion to waste by demonstrating how even the ‘disgusting’ can be inherently beautiful. Essaïdi shared her approach, stating that "the materials are results, they enable me to tell the story." And, when it comes to materials she would like to work with in the future, she sees no boundaries: "none of them are off-limits."

"The materials are results, they enable me to tell the story."

Besides her artistic practice, Essaïdi is CEO of Inspidere B. V., a biotech company to envision, develop, design and implement sustainable new materials and products, and accelerate their path to market.

She also founded the BioArt Laboratories. Here, she welcomes scientists and designers from all over the world to collaborate on projects that push the boundaries of art, design, technology and science. The BioArt Laboratories offer participants "the right tools and critical questions to help steer their work and overcome obstacles", and in turn, those who take part "bring various perspectives on nature and technology." Projects have varied from exploring desert animal adaptations as a solution for drought, to converting food waste into textiles as a way of challenging consumption habits.

Given that her work champions ‘innovation inspired by nature’, Essaïdi elaborated on how sees the relationship between humans, nature and technology in design: "There are many elements of nature that we can learn from, or ideas that we can ‘steal’ or adapt into technology in a sustainable, non-invasive way."

Indeed, her approach is characterized by respect and admiration for nature, and she further believes that through studying natural processes we can find solutions for contemporary issues. She highlights that "by looking at nature’s adaptations to environmental changes, humans can learn how to use technology to adapt to societal changes as well."

"By looking at nature’s adaptations to environmental changes, humans can learn how to use technology to adapt to societal changes as well."

 Here we see how biomimicry plays a role in Essaïdi’s philosophy as an artist. By exploring the composition, processes and capabilities of natural materials, she demonstrates the exciting possibilities that emerge when we decenter the human and allow nature to become our mentor. Work of this kind can allow us to think of nature as a resource to be collaborated with rather than controlled.

What will Essaïdi bring as DDW ambassador? 

Moving on to Essaïdi’s appointment as DDW ambassador, we were curious to learn what she wanted to bring to her role this year. Her answer is clear and concise: "I have always been interested in design projects that offer more than just economic value. As an ambassador, I want to raise awareness of different values that design can offer, such as ecological gains and sustainable applications."

Essaïdi further agreed that her appointment may represent a shift in what is expected from design and its future possibilities: "I think my goals fit a larger trend towards global awareness of the importance and urgency of sustainable design."

"I want to raise awareness of different values that design can offer, such as ecological gains and sustainable applications."

Indeed, this year’s DDW theme, If Not Now, Then When?, seems to support this sense of urgency, and has been described in the press as a ‘call to arms’. Asking Essaïdi whether design had reached its potential as a tool for change, she crucially pointed out that "humans have been constructing the world to meet their needs by design for eons."

"It is not so much the question if design has reached its potential as a tool for change, but if we are willing to explore and understand evolving and complex problems and turn them into sustainable solutions. The tools are there, we just need more problem loving creative change-makers."

"The tools are there, we just need more problem loving creative change-makers."

So, where can we find these problem loving creative change-makers? Essaïdi highlights the importance of experimental spaces like the BioArt Laboratories in working to meet this urgent need. She sees the initiative as an essential, collaborative "movement of creative change-makers — willing to reconfigure our current practices towards a circular economy."

We are excited to have Jalila Essaïdi on board as a speaker during the DDW Talks: Bio Design. Note: This event is part of the professionals program (register for early bird €75 via this link). But members of Next Nature Network attend this event for free! Drop us a line to claim your ticket.

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This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Kicking off this series is Valerie Daude, a recent MA graduate in Social Design from the Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE). She is interested in how gut bacteria play critical roles in maintaining our human health in many aspects, and aims to understand how biological organisms interact with their human host.

This research has led her to design the Microbial Self project, a series of interactive facial prosthetics that measure and visualize the diversity of microbial species inside our guts, hence give insides on our bodily and mental health condition.

According to the designer, "the masks act as body extensions that enable a dialogue between us and the microorganisms inside of us. Displaying your 'inside' in the middle of your face, hiding your identity and sharing it with your microorganisms."

Welcome to the Next Generation: Get to know Valerie Daude.

Where does your fascination for microbial design come from?

As a woman of 1,92m, standard organizations like ISO or DIN consider my size non-standard. As a result, the world that has been built does not fit my body size and makes me experience the negative aspects of industry standards every day.

This motivated me to research ergonomic theory, the process of normalization and standardization of the human body, and especially historic concepts of the normal or average.

I found that the first physical unit of measurement was the human body itself. The resulting anthropic units went beyond focusing on the body, and were used to define the dimensions of the world.

How did this insight inform your work?

While trying to define alternative units to measure the human body, I learned that our physical and mental health is highly influenced by trillions of microorganisms that live within, on and around us. 

The differences between bodies on a microscopic level have a much bigger impact on humans’ overall wellbeing, more than differences in size and dimension. This insight made me change my focus from defining a body through its anthropometric measurements to interpreting the body in a much smaller and much more diverse unit — I started to investigate the microorganisms inside the body. 

Tell us a bit more about these microorganisms

Only 43% of each human body's total cell amount is human. The remaining 57% are microorganisms, like bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Their population and genetic material are referred to as the human microbiome.

Bacteria far outnumber other microbes, and most species are found in the gut. Their diversity is essential for many aspects of our physical and mental well being. Between 400 and up to 1000 different bacteria species live in a healthy gut. The more different species you have, the better it is for your body.

They help us to digest certain food, synthesize vitamins, balance our immune system, and through the gut-brain axis, they influence our cognitive functions, mood, and even our behavior.

Each human body has its own unique set of microbes that constantly change over a lifetime. Diet, exercise, hygiene, medication and many other influences from our environment determine the composition of our microbes.

We constantly influence our microbial bodies without being aware of the impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.

And your project aims to visualize this?

Yes, I am working on methods to measure, visualize and display the diversity of our gut bacteria. Therefore I developed the concept of Microbial Masks, which have an integrated breath test that analyzes the diversity of gut bacteria through chemicals in your breath.

With every breath, the mask translates the results into a readable color code that is displayed on the mask.

Who are the masks for?

First and foremost, it's an ongoing design research project. At this stage, the project aims to explore through speculation how relationships between humans, as well as between humans and microbes, will be affected through advances in microbiome research.

To date, the relationship between humans and microorganisms has largely been biased. Microorganisms, especially bacteria, are primarily associated with diseases, contamination, and death.

Changes in present-day society such as diets with increased sugar, salt, and saturated fat, insufficient exercise, overuse of antibiotics, disinfectants, and pesticides cause a microbial imbalance in our environments and our bodies.

This contributes to an increase in obesity, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, depression, and mental health concerns. We need a paradigm shift, from thinking about microbes as enemies that have to be eliminated and destroyed, to thinking about achieving a healthy microbiotic environment within and around us. 

Where could you see the masks first introduced?

In a later stage of the project, the breath test technology could be implemented into wearable healthcare devices.

Nowadays, patients have little power in most healthcare systems and are depending on the decisions of healthcare professionals. Through self-tracking devices, individuals can get involved in the management of their microbial balance within the gut, and by extension, their overall health.

Would you wear this yourself?

I would wear and present the Microbial Masks on public events, symposiums, or exhibitions and invite others to test them. The main purpose of them is to open up conversations about the future application of microbiome research, data security, and to challenge the relationship between humans and microorganisms.

This phase of the project is not about introducing the design or technology to the market. Rather, the purpose is to gather people around these speculative objects as a way of maintaining interdisciplinary debate and creating new perspectives on scientific research.

The Microbial Masks are physical, haptic and form interactive conversation pieces that challenge the senses and imagination, triggering the exchange of insights between different professions, from artists to scientists, to learn from each other’s perspectives.

On a scale from 1-10, how speculative is the project?

I see this project as a near-future scenario in which healthcare becomes much more personal, political and expressive. In general, I would rate it a 7.

There are some parts, like the breath test, which is still a concept. But there are already diagnostic tools, like the hydrogen breath test, that can measure bacterial growth in your digestive tract through chemicals in your breath.

Also, the application of this technology in a mask can not be ruled out. In China, it is already very common to wear masks in public for health reasons. Although it is much more likely that many would prefer to keep the information gathered by the Microbial Mask private. 

Apart from that, the potential of microbiome research in healthcare is real. More and more at-home gut bacteria testing kits appear on the market. They all claim to help improve health.

Although the tests are questionable, in terms of their reliability, the market is growing rapidly. I took this extremely impersonal and quite slow procedure and transformed it into a more sensual and faster method: a breath test.

The microbiome holds the ability to influence our body, identity, health. Masks aside, one may argue that designing your microbiome is a form of biohacking, would you agree? Why?

Yes, definitely. Biohacking doesn't have to be related to micro-dosing, LSD or implanting chips. It's also about the controlled enhancement of your physical and cognitive performance, through the use of technology and biology.

There is constant interaction between microorganisms and hosts, autonomous processes of unconscious exchange that can enhance or decrease the host's performance. Humans are influencing their gut microbiome through everything they eat, inhale, absorb, digest and synthesize. Presumed that this influence may be conscious, guided, and goal-oriented, it can be interpreted as biohacking. Thereby the goal is to enhance the host’s overall health, cognitive function, and performance achieved through a balanced and diverse gut microbiome.

Why should we share this data?

Our body produces measurable data at every moment, and we could use this data to improve care and find new treatments for disease. Due to emerging molecular technologies, scientific knowledge and advances in human microbiome research are booming. This will inevitably bring striking changes in  understanding ourselves, normalcy, health, and illness, and consequently transform medical care, plus personal and public health.

The enormous amount of data we could generate by monitoring all those autonomous microorganism processes in our gut, with every single breath, holds exciting potential for researchers and doctors - on the condition that the collected data remains anonymous and is protected to prevent its misuse. This data could improve healthcare and find new treatments for disease.

Understanding how microorganisms interact with their human hosts could explain different aspects of many complex diseases. We can gain better insight into metabolic diseases, diabetes and Alzheimers, immunological and autoimmune diseases, or even behavioral changes, like depression and anxiety, or autism and ADHD in children.

What’s the dream scenario for this design? What’s the nightmare?

The nightmare would be if microbial data would be used to exclude, discriminate, or disadvantage people. It could be extremely problematic if insurance companies or employers want to have access to this kind of data. Furthermore, choice of friends and partners may be influenced, since body contact significantly influences the microbial communities on a human's skin.

The dream scenario is to use microbiome research to improve healthcare and to create a collective understanding of the importance of microbes for ourselves and our environment.

I designed the three Microbial Masks based on bodily systems which are highly influenced by our microbes. The digestive system, the respiratory system, and the immune system. In the future, wearables in healthcare may be defined as an extension of the body, technology that merges with your body like an external organ. I am not a big fan of the sleek industrial design of standard wearables in healthcare today. The aesthetic translations of my research are also visual proposals for a more expressive and sensual design of future wearable healthcare products.

We live in a microbial world, without being aware of it. We might need to conceptualize the human body as an ecosystem and the human being as a superorganism, rather than a single individual.

Catch Microbial Self as part of the Dutch Design Week at the DAE Graduation Show 2019. From 19 — 27 October at Melkfabriek, Eindhoven.

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Hooray! The team of researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology (whom we previously collaborated with to design a prototype for an artificial womb) has been awarded a €2.9 million grant to develop a working prototype of their artificial womb.

Artificial womb: a brief explainer

The artificial womb would provide premature babies with artificial respiration in conditions close to a biological womb. Oxygen and nutrients would be delivered to the baby through an umbilical cord-like tube. Inside, the baby would be protected by a substance close to amniotic fluid.

Guid Oei, a professor at the university and a practicing gynaecologist, says that the conditions of current incubators are too harsh for premature babies born without fully developed lungs or intestines. As a result, attempts to deliver oxygen and nutrients directly to the organs often result in lasting damage and survival rates are low for babies less than 22 weeks old.

“Within five years it will be possible for a premature baby to continue to mature in an artificial womb”
Guid Oei, gynecologist

Indeed, the model is revolutionary in that “when we put the [babies] lungs back under water then they can develop, they can mature [...] the baby will receive the oxygen by the umbilical cord, just like in the natural womb,” Oei explains. The researchers hope that the artificial womb will be ready for use in clinics within five years.

The technology needed to create the artificial womb has been tested on lambs using so-called bio bags. Lambs born at the equivalent of 23 weeks of human pregnancy continued to develop within the biobags and, after being removed, grew up normally.

The power of design

It's interesting to see how a visualization — that was initially created to spark conversation about scientific developments in reproductive technology — is now at the forefront of media reporting of the research grant.

The design was conceptualized and visualised by Next Nature designer-in-chief Hendrik-Jan Grievink, in close collaboration with the team of Guid Oei, for Dutch Design Week 2018.

The unique collaboration between Máxima Medical Centre and Next Nature Network is part of an ongoing research into the impact of technology on the future of biological reproduction, intimacy and relationships: Welcome to Reprodutopia.

Want to see it for yourself? You can! The prototype is currently on display at the Reprodutopia expo in Amsterdam. During your visit, challenge and ask yourself: How will we live, love and reproduce in next nature?

What? The Reprodutopia Clinic expo
When? From 9 October  — 30 November 2019
Where? Droog Amsterdam

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Bio design crosses the border between the ‘made’ and the ‘born’. Enabling living organisms as essential design elements, it brings us products that adapt, grow, sense and repair themselves. For those new to the subject (and those in the know) who would like to gain (more) experience on what bio design encompasses; this is for you.

The Microbial Vending Machine by Emma van der Leest

Bio Design Talks

We've been asked to curate a program for DDW to bring you up to speed with the rapidly evolving field of bio design. On 23 October, our editor-in-chief Ruben Baart talks crossing the border between the 'made' and the 'born' with a number of leading thinkers and makers.

The program features an introductory keynote by William Myers, author of Bio Design: Nature, Science, Creativity; visual keynotes by bio designers Teresa van Dongen and Emma van der Leest; keen insights by Prof. Pirjo Kääriänen, founder of CHEMARTS, a collaboration of Aalto CHEM and Aalto ARTS, at the Aalto University; and an inspirational talk by DDW Ambassador Jalila Essaïdi, founder of the BioArt Laboratories.

We conclude the program with a panel debate alongside Jalila Essaïdi, Koert van Mensvoort and Willem Velthoven, followed by drinks and bites.

What? DDW Talks: Bio Design
When? 23 October 2019 from 1.30pm to 5pm
Where? FIFTH | NRE, Gasfabriek 5, Eindhoven

Tickets This event is part of the professionals program (register for early bird €75 via this link). But members of Next Nature Network attend this event for free! Drop us a line to claim your ticket.

Not a member yet? Join here... and get the Next Nature book for free!

Research by Eeva Suorlahti, CHEMARTS

Bio Design Route

Hungry for more? That's more like it! Discover the latest in bio design along our scenic route through the city of light. Enjoy:

Visit the Dutch Design Week from 19-27 October in Eindhoven. Follow us on Instagram, here we feature the most inspiring #nextnature projects at DDW19 in the coming weeks!

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Pink chickens, synthesized tiger penises and salads grown from bodily fluids - how could they shape our future? In a Next Nature collaboration with the Gogbot Festival, the event’s 2019 conference challenged audience members to suspend their disbelief and imagine. In a series of fascinating presentations from designers, artists, scientists and bio-hackers, participants and audience members alike were invited to consider: what would a world in which biotechnology becomes our next nature look, taste and feel like?

Technology as nature

In times where the term ‘biotechnology’ alone may trigger feelings of discomfort and fear, the conference sought to provide an alternative view on biotechnological applications and to visualize constructive collaborations between nature, culture and technology.

Hosted by NNN’s editor-in-chief Ruben Baart, the conference began with a talk from NNN director Koert van Mensvoort. Crucial to his philosophy is the notion that technology has become so complex, autonomous and omnipresent that the line between nature and technology is blurred - that technology can be best understood as nature in itself.

The body as a resource

Following Koert van Mensvoort’s philosophical framing of the permeability of nature and technology, the first part of the conference focused on the idea of the body as a resource and what being human may mean in a world of biotechnological progress.

This began with a presentation by biohacker and DIY-futurist Peter Joosten. His talk focused on the potential of the human body as a site for modification, and proposed how hacking our own bodies may lead to exciting possibilities. Joosten pushed the audience to consider their own attitudes towards biohacking, asking what technologies they would be comfortable with - from glow-in-the-dark eye drops to having a bionic eye.

Following this, design researcher Thieu Custers discussed his project Bodyponics in which he used natural by-products of his own body to grow the ingredients of a salad. His project played with our conceptions of bodily fluids as waste products whilst offering a more sustainable way of producing food. To their surprise, audience members were invited to contribute their own urine for Custers’ DYI salad kit project!

Exploring the potential of biotechnology

The next part of the conference consisted of short presentations by five upcoming designers who shared their visionary proposals for the future applications of biotechnology. 

Shahar Livne presented her project The Meat Factory and in particular, her sneakers made of animal blood. The project is an ongoing exploration of material processes. Livne uses animal blood (an often unused by-product of the meat industry) as a material alternative to the highly polluting leather industry. Her approach challenges with the line we draw between attractiveness and disgust, the usable and unusable, sustainable and unsustainable.

Kuang-Yi-Ku discussed his Tiger Penis Project. A work imagines a future in which - using the designers words - a “culturally stronger penis” could be produced. The designer’s goal involved synthesising the practices of traditional Chinese medicine and mainstream Western medicine. Through the speculative creation of an artificial tiger penis, made using animal cells, the hybridization of medical practices was proposed to prevent the destruction of traditional cultural practices and the animals they involve.

Non Human Nonsense, consisting of Leo Fidjeland and Linnea Vaglund, took the stage with their wish to turn all chickens on Earth pink. Their work aims to unbound certainty and explore how speculation can reveal the complexity behind our relationships with nature. In their imagined application of CRISPR technology, the designers proposed world every chicken would be genetically modified to be pink. Eventually, their fossils will also colour the geological strata pink - forming the ultimate marker of the Anthropocene. Whether utopian or dystopian, this project opened up conversation about the future uses of technology such as CRISPR as well as the lasting impact of humans on the earth itself.

Quang Tran Bich’s project imagined how we may adapt our skin to better sense an increasingly virtual world - the designer asked, “what if we could feel wifi?” His work contemplates how transformations in our technological surroundings may require a change in the way we interact, sense, touch and use our bodies. He powerfully presented a future in which our skin may be the next interface.

The fifth speaker was Valerie Daude, a designer who addresses our relationship with our gut microbiomes. She thinks about the ways in which we can make our bacterial levels visible through the use of wearable masks. Daude considers how sharing our highly unique microbiome levels with others, like data, may transform our relationships with humans and nonhuman bacteria. Could we use the masks as a therapeutic tool, or transfer desired bacteria to each other when needed?

Towards a joint vision

The event culminated in a panel discussion that invited experts and audience members to engage in the debate and to help formulate a joint vision. Ruben Baart, Koert van Mensvoort, biodesigner Emma Van Der Leest and science communication researcher Joyce Nabuurs discussed the role of speculative design and the importance of the projects presented in terms of fostering debate and changing attitudes.

The takeaway message of the conference was one of positivity and momentum. The afternoon demonstrated a critical engagement with the huge potential for biotechnology to positively impact our lives and the planet as a whole. The format of the conference, which allowed audience members to engage with speakers, continually highlighted the importance of discussion and the democratisation of scientific ideas. Ultimately, we all have a right to participate in the formation of our futures. Finally, the conference demonstrated how the projects discussed can play a vital role when it comes to the idea of biotechnology becoming our next nature.

These projects can form a guide for progressing with technology in meaningful and collaborative ways - particularly at a time when social hurdles seem to outweigh technological ones.

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Around the world thousands of people are on organ donor waiting lists. While some of those people will receive the organ transplants they need in time, the sad reality is that many will die waiting. But controversial new research may provide a way to address this crisis.

Japan has recently overturned its ban on the creation of human-animal hybrids, or “chimeras”, and approved a request by researchers from the University of Tokyo to create a human-mouse hybrid.

Scientists will attempt to grow a human pancreas inside a mouse, using a certain kind of stem cell known as “induced pluripotent stem cells”. These are cells that can grow into almost any kind of cell. The stem cells will be injected into a mouse embryo, which has been genetically modified to be incapable of producing a pancreas using its own cells. This hybrid embryo is then implanted in a mouse surrogate and allowed to grow. The goal is to eventually grow a human pancreas in a larger animal – such as a pig – which can be transplanted into a human.

Human-animal hybrids have been created in both the US and UK, but regulations require the embryo to be destroyed usually by 14 days. The new Japanese regulations allow for the embryo to be implanted in a surrogate uterus, and eventually, to be born as a mouse with a “human” pancreas. The mice will then be monitored for up to two years, to see where the human cells travel and how the mice develop.

Ethical issues

The idea of human-animal hybrids can raise a lot of questions and it’s easy to feel they are “unnatural” because they violate the boundaries between species. But the boundary between species is often fluid, and we don’t seem to have the same reaction to animal hybrids like mules, or the many kinds of plant hybrids humans have produced.

Philosophers believe that negative reactions to human-animal hybrids might be based on our need to have a clear boundary between things that are “human” and things that are not. This distinction grounds many of our social practices involving animals, and so threatening this boundary could create moral confusion.

Some might feel that human-animal hybrids are a threat to human dignity. But it’s difficult to specify what this claim really amounts to. A stronger objection is the idea that a human-animal hybrid may acquire human characteristics, and as a result, be entitled to human level moral consideration.

If, for example, the injected human stem cells travel to the mouse’s brain, it could develop enhanced cognitive capacities compared to a normal mouse. And on that basis, it may be entitled to a much higher moral status than a mouse would normally be granted – and possibly make it unethical for use in scientific experimentation.

Moral status

Moral status tells us whose interests count, from a moral point of view. Most people would say human beings have full moral status, as do babies, fetuses and the severely disabled, which means we must consider their interests. More controversially, some people also believe that non-human animals – such as chimpanzees or human embryos – possess a degree of moral status approaching that of human beings.

But pinning down what characteristics confer moral status can be tricky. Various criteria have been suggested, including the ability to reason, have self-awareness, the ability to form relationships with others, the capacity for suffering, or simply being a part of the human species. But each of these criteria ends up including some groups who don’t have moral status, or excluding some who do.

A human-animal chimera contains a mixture of human cells and animals cells.

The idea that non-human animals might have sufficient moral status for it to be morally wrong to kill them for food, or use for medical research, has gained significant traction in the philosophical community. Similarly, veganism has grown massively worldwide. There’s been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegan in the US in just the last three years. While in the UK the number of vegans has risen from 150,000 in 2014 to 600,000 in 2018, which suggests people are increasingly willing to take the interests of animals seriously.

From a philosophical perspective using non-human animals for food or medical research is unethical because it significantly harms the animal, while providing only a small or insignificant benefit to us. But even those who believe that non-human animals have moral status would likely support sacrificing the life of a non-human animal to save the life of a human – as would be the case in human-animal organ donation. This is because a human can value its life in complex ways that a non-human animal cannot.

But if human-animal hybrids become more like us than non-human animals, it could then be argued that it’s unethical to produce a hybrid simply for the purposes of extracting its organs. That is, harvesting the organs of a non-consenting human-animal hybrid could be morally equivalent to harvesting the organs of a non-consenting human.

Of course, for this argument to work, there would need to be strong reasons for thinking not only that a human-animal hybrid has moral status, but that its life has equal moral value to that of a human. And even if a mouse-human hybrid did have a “human-like” brain, it is exceedingly unlikely that it would be human enough to merit equal moral consideration.

So given that this process has the potential to successfully resolve the perpetual lack of organs for transplant, it’s reasonable to think that the use of human-animal hybrids is the right thing to do to help save human lives – even if it does require some level of animal suffering.

This article is written by Mackenzie Graham, Research Fellow of Philosophy, University of Oxford. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover image: The red shows rat cells in the developing heart of a mouse embryo (via Salk Institute).

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Meet Pirjo Kääriäinen, professor of design driven fibre innovation at Aalto University, Finland. Kääriäinen founded CHEMARTS—a collaborative program at the university that brings students from different disciplines together to experiment with new material processes—to explore alternative applications for bio-based materials.

Having a extensive knowledge of the Finnish textile industry, it’s fair to say Kääriäinen is an expert in the field. She possesses a valuable bank of insights, a clear perspective on how the industry must change, and an inexhaustible passion for the benefits of collaborative work. Her realistic approach to sustainability is what informs the CHEMARTS program, along with an attitude of openness and respect for change.

What CHEMARTS does

The CHEMARTS program has produced a plethora of interesting outcomes. Participants have offered alternative applications for bio-based materials that make tangible the possibility of producing longer lasting, more sustainable applications for valuable forest resources.

Some examples: students have developed biodegradable tableware, natural sunscreen, wearable garments, home furnishings, wood-based bricks and organic jewelry.

What new possibilities are out there? We caught up with Pirjo Kääriäinen to learn more.

Biodegradable tableware. Designer: Aurora Tani

Hi Pirjo, tell us about CHEMARTS

Chemarts started in 2011, and has been an interdisciplinary collaboration from the beginning. When Aalto University was merged there was a desire to see how different disciplines could really work together.

In setting up the program, we realized that these different disciplines —engineering and design— had a shared interest in materiality, with a particular focus on using wood for new textile fibres.

We received some funding from the university and managed to set up a team; members who not only came from different disciplines but also from different cultural backgrounds and perspectives.

In following, participants from chemical engineering and design set up their courses, came up with the name CHEMARTS, and thought about how to collaborate. It was a really useful, student driven exercise, and we have been developing it ever since.

How do you succeed in creating a common language between these disciplines?

Everyone who has worked on our interdisciplinary projects has said that communication is crucial for how successful the project will be. A shared language has to be created, and it is created and enabled by doing things, by working together, by being hands-on and making together.

There are two crucial elements needed for a fertile collaboration to succeed: The first is willingness; when you have a willingness to do something, you want to understand, and you make an effort to understand. If you don’t have willingness, nothing will happen.

"A shared language has to be created, and it is created and enabled by doing things, by working together, by being hands-on and making together"

The second element you need is respect. If you have respect for the other person’s knowledge, their experience, and them as a person, a true collaboration is enabled.

For example, I don’t want to become a chemist, and I couldn’t because I don’t have the knowledge. I feel I have to leave that area to my colleagues, who are the true experts in that field. However, I believe we can play a little bit in the other’s realms. By combining and respecting each other's deep expertise, we can work together and have true collaborations.

Do designers working in the natural sciences have a different responsibility to those who don’t?

Whether you are working with the natural sciences, or some other field, I think responsibility is becoming more important for designers in general. Of course, designers can’t always have an impact on things inside companies such as sustainability, but they should at least try. Particularly as sustainability is becoming such a dominant issue. I think as designers we need to take a bit more responsibility than we are now.

"I think as designers we need to take a bit more responsibility than we are now."

I do agree that designers working with the natural sciences have a unique responsibility. Working with living things such as bacteria, fungi or microbes is a different story—these are alive.

How we treat and use them is always up for discussion. Ethical discussions need to happen, and designers must be aware and take part in these discussions.

To what extent does the Nordic context inform the work of CHEMARTS?

A lot. Firstly, we have plenty of forest-based materials here. And we know them quite well, as we have been using them industries such as papermaking for over two-hundred years.

We have plenty of wood in Finland, and currently we use it in ways that don’t always make sense. Valuable side streams from the industry are not always utilized efficiently, and some methods of harvesting are not the best for the environment. We have the raw materials but we need to find new ways of using them.

"We have the raw materials but we need to find new ways of using them."

Also keep in mind that the Finnish concept of forest is completely different to, say, the Dutch concept. Nordic forests are totally different. We have a very special legislation in Finland, it’s called ‘every man’s rights’, and it’s a right the means everybody's free to go to the forest and explore, to pick berries and mushrooms.

You should not harm nature but you can go and forage. It’s a beautiful old tradition that we have here, that we hope we can keep. This context comes into our projects too, and although we often use processed wood-based materials they are still very linked to the forest. It’s a wonderful, renewable resource.

How do you navigate the conflict of continuing to extract natural materials, yet at the same time trying to be more sustainable?

With climate change, there is a lot of discussion going on about our forests being valuable carbon sinks, meaning they take in carbon and keep it within them as they grow. This means that we need to work on preserving our forests as carbon sinks, and using what we do take in different ways; using wood for long-life applications, for example creating wooden buildings that continue to store carbon for decades.

The worst possibility is that we use our materials for a short time and then throw them away. We must think about how we can balance environmental and economic needs. Finland can’t afford not to use wood at all, this is not a country rich with different resources. Instead, we can use it in better ways.

How will these bio-based material experiments help us relate to nature in different ways?

I think in general people don’t know what’s in materials these days. If you would ask people on the street, ‘what materials are you wearing?’, most of them will don’t know that they are two-thirds oil, or that they have plastic on their skin.

One value of these projects is that they connect people back to materials in general. We will continue to use materials in our everyday lives and we need to be aware of them and how they exist in our world. If you are not aware of something, you cannot have an impact on that. For example, if you want to select something more sustainable, you can’t unless you know about it.

"People used to sew, repair, make food from scratch - and this makes you think differently."

We feel strongly that when you play with natural materials, when you work with them in intimate and tangible ways, you start to think about the material more deeply, and that’s a kind of trigger or motivation that allows you to think more deeply about nature in general.

And even human nature. One of our students has been exploring how to help children to express feelings through playing with materials. Our minds are deeply linked to our body, and we are looking into how these materials may make us more aware of many things — ourselves, nature, sustainability.

More and more we are not working with our hands. People used to sew, repair, make food from scratch - and this makes you think differently. To do this is to also develop your thinking and your mindset.

Do you feel that CHEMARTS disrupts narratives of humans mastering nature for their own needs? 

I think they have to disrupt this narrative. We can’t go on using nature in the way that we do. There is much more discussion happening about the agency of materials in the era of the Anthropocene.

"We are part of nature ourselves, yet we seem to have forgotten that somehow."

We are part of nature ourselves, yet we seem to have forgotten that somehow. However we nature effects whole environmental systems. By learning about the impact, and how we use systems, we can change the way we use them. We have to change how we are using materials on a large scale, and for a very short time. The whole system is unbearable. 

How to change this?

We can change things by establishing some kind of balance. For example, experiments with natural dyes have become popular recently, but many of the plants we use for them are very rare. What would happen if the whole industry started using them? It would be a catastrophe and would bring new problems. So we need to have a more holistic way of thinking, to ask where do these techniques it come from, is it good for nature? Can we grow it ourselves, for example with bacteria? We should be very careful about what we label as sustainable.

Do you see a move in this direction already?

I see it here in Scandinavia, I may see it in central Europe. But to be honest, if we take a global perspective, not yet. We are living in a bubble, and it’s easy. We live in rich countries and we can afford to be sustainable.

I was recently speaking with someone from Lebanon, and for him the concept of sustainability was not familiar at all. So we have a lot to do in terms of spreading this thinking and knowledge. And of course we need people like Greta Thunberg, we need these kinds of activists to spread awareness.

We can take inspiration from nature, where nothing is too much and nothing is too little. Whatever nature produces, some other element is balancing it and using it. Our ecosystems work in a certain ways so that there is no waste, and that’s a very interesting thing to consider.

"Our ecosystems work in a certain ways so that there is no waste, and that’s a very interesting thing to consider."

For more information about student projects and research by CHEMARTS, follow the links and see for yourself! CHEMARTS will be releasing a Cookbook in 2020, learn more about it here.

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