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May 31, 2021

What is Bio-Design?

This emerging movement crosses the traditional boundaries of art, science, and design to create the future.

Bio-design, like bioengineering and synthetic biology, is a field that brings the natural sciences to the design industry. Universities all over the world have specialised interdisciplinary programs for it, but what exactly is it, and how can it revolutionise the future of the design industry?

At its core, bio-design involves using living material such as fungi, yeast, bacteria, and cultured tissue as the base materials for new products. This can involve substituting traditional materials like plastic and wood for the living organic matter, or more deeply working with proteins and cells to construct new, customised materials. Although the fundamentals of bio-design have existed for centuries – selective breeding, for example, is technically a type of bio-design – new technologies like 3D-printing and DNA-reading allow for more fine-tuned approaches to using living matter. Technology allows us to understand the material we’re working with at a fundamental level and manipulate the way it operates, opening new doors in how we can use those materials.

Another thing to love about bio-design is that the process is often super sustainable. Living things take a lot less energy to grow and multiply compared to what’s possible in traditional manufacturing, minimising the emissions involved in the process. The natural materials involved are also usually less harmful to the environment and more biodegradable compared to synthetics – both major pluses for the movement towards sustainability.

Bio-based products have most often been seen in medicine, particularly in research and in creating non-toxic technologies for treatments. However, materials made from organic materials are increasingly finding their way into some of Casper Magazine’s favourite industries: fashion and design. American design and research studio Modern Meadow have developed a series of bio-fabricated materials called ZOA, which imitate the protein structures of animal leather using plant-based proteins instead. Dutch designer Erik Klarenbeek, meanwhile, uses 3D-printing technology to create sculptural chairs out of living mycelium from fungus!

I think it’s pretty cool when I can wear my science.
- MODERN MEADOW RESEARCHER ROBIN E. BELL.

In an innovation that sounds straight out of a sci-fi film, microbiologist Henk Jonkers has created a self-repairing bio-concrete in the Netherlands: the traditional material is mixed with limestone-producing bacteria that automatically fill any holes or cracks that start to form. This process means that the concrete will need to be replaced less frequently, minimising the amount of raw material used as well as the emissions produced by transporting them.

Bio-design is amazing, not only for bringing out the best of the intersection between science and design, but also because it gives us creative solutions to problems of finite resources and waste. Its products are stunning and its applications are wide-reaching, so it’s no wonder that bio-design is such a fast-growing field.

If you enjoyed this article, you’re sure to like our feature on mushroom leather, another great example of bio-design. 


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