This experiment may kickstart a new age of microorganism technology.
But that may change soon. London-based architect and designer Bastian Beyer of the Royal College of Art, in collaboration with designer Daniel Suarez of University of the Arts Berlin, created this self-supporting 62-inch textile fibre piece using bacteria.Sporosarcina pasteurii bacteria can create calcium, which the microorganisms use to harden sand. But these bacteria can harden other things too ... like textiles.
As Beyer explains:
The material offers an alternative to petrochemically derived composite materials as it is based on natural fibres and solidified by a natural process. While it can't structurally compete with high tech fibres such as carbon or glass fibres it offers a novel, sustainable and bio-derived composite with an inherent new aesthetic and characteristics for architectural design ... Knitted textile systems allow for much more complex shapes which can be applied as for example spatial dividers, shading features, reinforcement and potentially even structural roof or wall systems.
The artists first created a design on the computer. Then a craftsperson wove the piece on a custom-designed loom. Finally, the artists sprayed the piece with the bacteria and added calcium chloride and urea, the ingredients that help the bacteria harden objects. The process took three days and eight spraying sessions.
The designers wanted to take advantage of naturally occurring "textile microbiomes," says Beyer:
A textile microbiome is a community of microorganisms inhabiting a specific fibrous substratum. Generally, almost every textile material is inhabited by a distinct microbiome as fibres offer, due to their increased surface area and moisture content, a suitable environment. These microbiomes are in constant (biological) exchange with their environment which varies in their activity depending on external and internal conditions. By utilizing this property of textiles to "host" specific microbiomes and designing a distinct tailored textile microbiome whose activity and reactiveness can be determined and controlled, novel bio-active and responsive composites can be generated.
During the development process, Beyer experimented with various knitting patterns and fibre densities. Having garnered an Autodesk/ACADIA Emergent Research Award, the project was part of a larger research project called ArcInTex.
This may just seem like an unsual piece of art, but the implications go far deeper. The designers wanted to see how microorganisms can create unconventional building materials, possibly paving the way for self-assembling or self-repairing materials that can be used in anything from art to construction.