The future of biodesign

Yesterday and today, the Biodesign Challenge is taking place at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, showcasing projects that use biotechnology to address global challenges.

Designing with biology, or biodesign, is nothing new. Selective breeding of plants and animals, making them stronger, better and more usable for us, is one of civilisation’s oldest practices. However, the organisers of the Biodesign Challenge believe biodesign can provide a solution for global challenges.

“Biotechnology is unique because it harnesses life,” the website of the Biodesign Challenge states. “Life as a technology introduces new capabilities and raises new concerns. Biotechnology has brought about new medicines and greener modes of production. It has also created new risks. As the science finds its way into our world and our products, designers need a full understanding of these concerns, so that when they are asked to design with biology, they do so creatively, thoughtfully, and ethically.”

The Challenge offers university students the opportunity to envision future applications of biotechnology in a competition that highlights student work. The students are guided by a team of biologists and experts to developed their ideas. At the end of the semester, the winning teams are invited to New York City to showcase their designs in front of members if the academic, industrial and design communities at the Biodesign Summit, which takes place today and yesterday.

The design challenge shows how biotechnology could be harnessed in the fields of communications, energy, food, medicine, transportation, water, architecture and materials.

Growing our building materials, or even whole structures, is just one way biotechnology is changing architecture and urban design. Examples include the BioMASON, a brick grown by microorganisms, bricks made of mycelium, and ‘tree shaping’ structures like the bridges of Meghalaya.

Biotechnologies are contributing to a potential renaissance in materials. Materials that take inspiration from or make use of nature include synthetic spider silk, like from the company Bolt Threads, fabrics grown by bacteria and yeast, such as Biocouture by Suzanne Lee, bioplastic made from chitosan, as developed by the Wyss Institute, or self-healing concrete, designed by the Technical University Delft.

These are only a few examples of what biodesign has in store for us, so stay tuned!

Photos via Biodesign Challenge