39 results for “Bio Design”

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 …

GOGBOT Conference 2019: Your guide to a future with biotech

NextNature.net
August 12th 2019

Look around you and try to find the most natural thing in the room you are in now. It is you. But for how long?

Welcome to the wonderful world of bio design; a world full of agricultural crops, in vitro meat and designer babies. An increasingly large group of young artists and designers are exploring this relatively new design discours, in which the sciences and art merge. These artists and designers use their imagination to envision future scenarios and …

First human CRISPR trial in the US aims to cure inherited blindness

Vanessa Bates Ramirez
July 30th 2019

Gene editing is advancing at a faster pace than most of us can keep up with. One significant recent announcement was gene editing tool CRISPR’s application to non-genetic diseases thanks to a new ability to edit single letters in RNA.

Even as CRISPR reaches milestones like this, scientists continue to find new uses for it to treat genetic conditions. The next one that will hit clinics is a CRISPR treatment for a form of blindness called Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA).…

Microbiocene: A microbiological archeology of the future

Linda Valenta
July 11th 2019

In configuring our next nature, artists and scientists explore new languages that move beyond the Anthropocene - the era of human beings. These semantics would bridge the gap between mankind and technology, but also between humans and other species, establishing a cosmological understanding of life. Within this endeavour, bio-artists Amanda Baum and Rose Leahy delved into more-than-human narratives by creating a monument for the Microbiocene: the age of the microbial.

The Microbiocene is an epoch we’ve always lived in and …

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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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Look around you and try to find the most natural thing in the room you are in now. It is you. But for how long?

Welcome to the wonderful world of bio design; a world full of agricultural crops, in vitro meat and designer babies. An increasingly large group of young artists and designers are exploring this relatively new design discours, in which the sciences and art merge. These artists and designers use their imagination to envision future scenarios and wonder out loud what these technologies will bring us.

The GOGBOT Conference 2019, curated by Next Nature Network, delves into this development and examines what it means to be human in the technological age, by looking at a future with biotechnology. We wonder, is it going to be a dream or a nightmare?

Join us on Saturday 7 September, from 3-7pm, at the Muziekcentrum in Enschede with Dr. Koert van Mensvoort (creative director of Next Nature Network), Peter Joosten (biohacker), Emma van der Leest (researcher biobased art & design), Shahar Livne (material designer), Non Human Nonsense (art collective), Kuang-Yi Ku (dentist, bio-artist), Valerie Daude (social designer), Thieu Custers (design researcher), Quang Bich Tran (designer), Joyce Nabuurs (research assistant VU). The day will be moderated by Ruben Baart (editor-in-chief Next Nature Network).

PS: Member of Next Nature Network attend the event for free! Not a member yet? Join us!

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Gene editing is advancing at a faster pace than most of us can keep up with. One significant recent announcement was gene editing tool CRISPR’s application to non-genetic diseases thanks to a new ability to edit single letters in RNA.

Even as CRISPR reaches milestones like this, scientists continue to find new uses for it to treat genetic conditions. The next one that will hit clinics is a CRISPR treatment for a form of blindness called Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA).

Having been approved by the FDA in December, the treatment will be the first of its kind to be trialed in the US.

What LCA Is

LCA is a group of inherited disorders that cause severe vision loss at birth. Both parents must have a defective gene for the condition in order for a child to inherit it; 2 to 3 out of every 100,000 babies are born with LCA.

The condition can be caused by mutations in at least 14 different genes that play a role in the development of the retina (the layer of nerve cells at the back of the eye that senses light and sends signals to the brain), affecting both peripheral rod cells—which help with vision in low light—and central cone cells, which are crucial for seeing details and colors.

The pupils of people with LCA don’t react normally to light, failing to expand or contract in response to the amount of light entering the eye. For example, in one version of the disease, a mutation in the gene responsible for metabolizing vitamin A reduces the ability of photoreceptors (specialized nerve cells in the retina) to send visual information to the brain, and causes early death of photoreceptor cells.

How CRISPR Would Fix It

In CRISPR gene editing, scientists attach a synthesized sequence of guide RNA matching the target DNA sequence to the enzyme Cas-9 and introduce it into a cell’s nucleus. When the matching DNA sequence is located, Cas-9 cuts the DNA strand, and the cell then repairs the cut.

The mutations most commonly responsible for LCA occur in the CEP290, CRB1, GUCY2D, and RPE65 genes. In LCA type 10, a mutation in CEP290 causes dysfunction of a protein that helps build photoreceptor cells in the retina.

After having some of the gel-like tissue in their eyes removed, patients will have the treatment injected behind their retinas. The hope is that the patients’ DNA will repair itself in a way that restores normal protein function, ultimately fixing their photoreceptor cells and letting them see.

The treatment will be administered by Cambridge-based Editas Medicine and its Dublin-based pharmaceutical partner Allergan.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Though this is the first study to use CRISPR to edit DNA inside the human body, it’s not the first time CRISPR-based medicine has been tested in humans, nor the first time some form of gene therapy has been used to treat LCA.

CRISPR was used to treat patients for the first time in the US earlier this year, when doctors at the University of Pennsylvania combined it with the cancer therapy CAR-T to treat two patients (the results of the treatment haven’t been released yet).

In late 2017 the FDA approved a gene therapy called Luxturna to treat LCA2, a form of the disease caused by a mutation in a different gene than that involved in type 10. It was the first directly-administered gene therapy for an inherited disease to be approved in the US. Only one other company, Sangamo Therapeutics, has tried gene editing inside the body, to treat metabolic diseases using a tool called zinc fingers.

The difference between the LCA2 treatment and the treatment that will be given to LCA10 patients is that Luxturna inserts a healthy copy of the defective gene directly into retinal cells, whereas CRISPR locates the defective gene on the DNA strand, cuts it at just the right point, and allows it to repair itself.

Though there’s no guarantee the CRISPR treatment for LCA will work, it holds a lot of promise; Luxturna successfully improved sight in its recipients with no known side effects, and a similar trial in the Netherlands produced vision improvements in about 60 percent of participants.

Treatment is slated to start this fall in 18 children and adults, and will last up to 3 years.

This article is republished from SingularityHub under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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In configuring our next nature, artists and scientists explore new languages that move beyond the Anthropocene - the era of human beings. These semantics would bridge the gap between mankind and technology, but also between humans and other species, establishing a cosmological understanding of life. Within this endeavour, bio-artists Amanda Baum and Rose Leahy delved into more-than-human narratives by creating a monument for the Microbiocene: the age of the microbial.

The Microbiocene is an epoch we’ve always lived in and will continue to live in, as the vibrant matter on planet earth emerged and thrives through microbial life, e.g. bacteria. In collaboration with the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), Baum & Leahy dove into the deep time of the microfossil molecules Emiliania huxleyi, which are found in ancient sea sediment. The result is an award winning symbiosis between art and science, as well as an artefact for the ecologies that are yet to be embraced by the human species.

We caught up with the duo and spoke about the philosophical matter pushing their piece to emerge, and the microbial matter it is made of.

"The installation envisions a future archaeological site, thousands of years from now."

You created the ‘Microbiocene’ piece for the Bio Art and Design Award last year. Tell us about the creative process of the project; did you already have in mind this result or did it evolve from something completely different?

The Microbiocene as an overarching concept is something we’d been thinking about for awhile - over the past couple of years almost all our projects have become about mapping out the Microbiocene - the ancient, ongoing, and future era of microorganisms. We’ve explored this through various lenses; spiritual, material, ritualistic, ancestral.

When applying to the BAD Awards, we were immediately inspired by the research from the Department of Marine Microbiology and Biogeochemistry at The Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ). The scientists at NIOZ work with sea sediment containing microbial fossil molecules, which hold information about past environmental conditions, both recent and ancient.

NIOZ’s research combined with this cultural, philosophical framework gave birth to the idea of creating a form of ‘biological Rosetta Stone’ - a relic being found, and a language translated, to discover information about an ancient (invisible) civilisation.

Baum & Leahy, Microbiocene: Ancient ooze to future myths, 2018, Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann, MU ArtSpace

Inspired by the aspect of deep time, the installation envisions a future archaeological site, thousands of years into the future, where the Microbiocene monument is being found. It is inscribed with myths of the Microbiocene, a (re)telling of history and future on Earth as microbe-centric. These stories were based on information we unearthed from microbial fossils in sea sediment dating from the present to nearly 10,000 years ago. We then developed this data into narratives with our collaborating scientists, projecting different future scenarios.

The idea was to create a narration that was informed both by microbe and mammal.

You used ‘microglyphs’ in your piece —a microbe-centric language system co-created by the artists and scientists— how did you develop this language? Are the shapes imprinted on your works also literally found under the microscope?

The microglyphs were created with input from both scientific, cultural associations as well as free associations between us and the scientists. Some of the symbols are more literal —like a double bond in a molecule meaning cold, or Ehux being a graphic representation of how it looks, whilst some are more complex like the Microbiocene microglyph, which refers to life beginning on earth.

Whilst creating the microglyphs we discussed the multitude of forms that language takes,and the inherent human desire to traverse their boundaries – across cultures, disciplines and species. From the Rosetta Stone to art-sci collaborations to alien communication attempts, the wish to understand, and to translate is constant: we all dream of babel fish.

Baum & Leahy, Microbiocene: Ancient ooze to future myths, 2018, Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann, MU ArtSpace

By creating a visual language for the Microbiocene, we attempted to move towards a more multimodal form of communication with the potential to be interpreted in various ways by anyone encountering it. Each of the microglyphs has multiple meanings, which change responsively with the surrounding microglyphs. Different compositions of the microglyphs explore movements within the meaning of the sentences.

The microglyphs are an initial iteration into working with the materiality of language, which we continue to explore in workshops, and our other projects. By consciously molding language, or sign making, into new biologically informed structures, we begin to weave our mammalian minds into the Microbiocene.

What kind of scientists did you collaborate with?

We collaborated with biogeochemists from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research – Julie Lattaud, Gabriella Weiss and Laura Schreuder. They study the alkenone biomarkers, especially sturdy molecules, left by microorganisms in sea sediment. This sediment is collected in long cores, which have a cross section of earth from the seabed and below, with the top layer being the most recent, and the bottom being from the mostpast.

"We like to work with scientists as partners on an equal basis of passion for understanding."

Their lab work is wonderfully intimate with the sediment that is collected. The coresare opened from a long tube and these incredibly distinct lines are revealed along the earth core, indicating thousands of years of life being lived before turning to matter.

Do you think you could have created this piece without this collaboration? What role does and should science play in art? Where does science stop and art begin?

The idea of the piece itself grew out of and was continuously informed by the scientific research, so it would have been another piece without the scientific collaboration. Like any other relationship, the symbiosis between art and science can and should take many forms, from the abstract and experimental to the more systematic.

At this point in time, we see not only creative potential but also a certain urgency, in the point between ecological transformation, emerging technologies and increased sensitivity and awareness towards the planetary web of life.

We like to work with scientists as partners on an equal basis of passion for understanding, working with and caring for living systems - although with very different means of research and expression. Before restricting ourselves within established epistemological systems, we try and create a nurturing space of shared curiosity, where ideas and visions aren’t limited to our individual areas of expertise.

Baum & Leahy, Microbiocene: Ancient ooze to future myths, 2018, Photo by Max Kneefel, MU ArtSpace

Do you think that art is stuck in the anthropocene? Is art too much focused on human experience?

We think it’s important that art happens across many ‘cenes’- and that it’s also urgently important to reflect on our lives in the Anthropocene. Yet we are interested in exploring an alternative - one that is generative, slimey and messy, and optimistic about the adaptable forces of life. Microbiocene is just one. We continuously draw on inspiration from Donna Haraway’s ‘chthulucene’. Nurturing the diversity and moving away from dominant narratives of the Anthropocene is what we find urgently needed - within all fields, not just artistic.

Whilst creating Microbiocene we were thinking a lot about the magnitude of microbial experience that has come before us, and how this has had slow yet defining atmospheric and evolutionary impacts on the Earth, setting out the conditions for terran life to thrive. In contrast, human’s time on Earth is becoming very much defined by rapid changes, caused by a few, and resulting in wider impacts for all, and some much more than others. We believe a more microbial approach could trigger the emergence of new systems of adaptation and cohabitation.

"The monument is raised to mark and celebrate how humans learn to become more microbial in their planetary impact."

By looking at the history of time on Earth through the perspective of the Microbiocene, we hoped to condense this microbial evolutionary perspective into a material and sensorial experience able to inspire new ideas and trajectories challenging current anthropocentric worldviews. The Microbiocene monument is raised to mark and celebrate how humans learn to become more microbial in their planetary impact. Focusing on more-than-human adaptive strategies and experience as a worthy alternative. For us, drawing the narrative out of information in the material remains of microbial experience was a way to do this.

Baum & Leahy i.c.w. Sofie Birch and Pernille Kjær, Interterrestrials, 2019
Baum & Leahy i.c.w. Sofie Birch and Pernille Kjær, Interterrestrials, 2019

What role does materiality play in your piece and how do you elevate a materiality from human to more-than-human?

It was an incredible opportunity for us to use the sea sediment from our studies as part of the material in the sculpture.

The particular sediment we were working with is called calcareous ooze, meaning it contains a large proportion of skeletal remains of coccolithophores. This included Emiliania Huxleyi (Ehux) - the microorganism we were studying within the sediment - which has an incredible, vibrant materiality to it.

It is a single celled alga covered in calcium carbonate-rich platelets, which – with the help of deep time –transmutates into materials such as chalk and lime. The build up of these microscopic organisms on the seabed over long periods has an immense, macroscopic effect, as expressed in the White Cliffs of Dover and Møns Klint.

When understood as the material result of numerous coccolithophore bodies and existence, this coastal landscape becomes a more-than-human monument in itself. We wished to translate the immensity of this deep time within this lively material we had in the lab.

"Microbes are in a way a ‘gateway’ to the unknowns of the universe."

Part of what we find fascinating about the microbial world is the (to us) mysterious material liminality - microbes are in a way a ‘gateway’ to the unknowns of the universe, which we know makes up more than 90% of our perceived reality.

We can’t see the microbes with our naked eye, yet with electron microscopy technologies etc it’s revealed how alive, vibrant and ‘material’ they are. We see them as active, reproductive, communicative, busy organisms, just like ourselves.

This many faceted relationship between the microbes’ ubiquitous, ghostly presence and the very material reality of their lives, which resonates with our human experience, continues to puzzle and inspire us.

Even more incomprehensible invisible organic elements like bacteriophages, proteins, DNA, molecules, atoms, dark matter, down to the strange world of quantum mechanics, seems more ‘approachable’ when we think of them through the universal, microbial gateway.

Baum & Leahy i.c.w. Naja Ankarfeldt, The Red Nature of Mammalga, 2018
Baum & Leahy i.c.w. Naja Ankarfeldt, The Red Nature of Mammalga (detail), 2018

Philosopher Timothy Morton wrote that we have to think in terms of durations, meaning we have to create a ‘deep time’ to ‘think ecologically’. Are you perceiving the world differently in terms of temporality since you made this work? Do you experience a more cosmological time as opposed to a human history?

When working with material such as the sediment cores that have such an evident history, it’s impossible not to become incredibly aware of and sensitive to the vast periods of time on Earth that have preceded us.

Our collaborating scientists work with these kind of time scales everyday, and so are used to thinking about time on Earth in terms of epochs, rather than through the length of their own human experience.

This was intriguing for us, and something we were trying to approach in Microbiocene not only as an installation, but also as a framework. Indeed, we believe that if humans could enter a mindset of deep time, we would see a big shift in our ways of producing and distributing materials. If humans could think in terms of the length of time that that plastic bottle will be on Earth, rather than the length of time it was experienced it in our lives, we surely wouldn’t be producing and distributing them in this way.

Yet, whilst the Microbiocene entails this very cosmological way of thinking – we’re not sure we can claim to have transcended into everyday cosmological experience of time from this. Despite our best efforts, we’re still just too darn human for that.

Baum & Leahy, Cellular Sanctum, 2018
Baum & Leahy, Cellalur Sanctum, 2018

You both have a background in design - do you think different aesthetics in our everyday surroundings will amount to different environmental awareness? And if so, what’s the potential role of aesthetics in environment awareness?

In our work, we combine tactile, sensorial materiality with collective, ceremonial practicessuch as meditation, ritual and writing to practice and nurture a symbiosis between matter (microbial, mammalien, etc) and mind. We aim to bring focus to how internal and external realities are interrelational and constantly shaping each other. By materialising a speculative scenario, ongoing tendencies can be harnessed and the actual long term realisations can emerge.

We have both been inspired by biophilic design principles, how biomorphic form, aesthetic,and material can be used to strengthen, encourage, and practice our connection with other species and ecologies.

Recently we’ve been thinking about ‘microbiophilia’, and how to stir emotions for organisms we can’t see, yet live all around, on, and within us. In previous pieces such as Cellular Sanctum (2018), and The Red Nature of Mammalga (in collaboration with Naja Ankarfeldt, 2018), we created tactile biomorphic, microbial forms, microbial drinks, and written participatory chants, to create a tactile and sensual experience.

Through these aesthetic experiences we aim to seed a heightened awareness to the parallel microscopic world, within those who experience them.

More microbiocene ?

https://vimeo.com/322794918

Cover photo by Max Kneefel.

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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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