Jackets Grown From Bacteria And 10 More Feats Of Bio-Engineering

William Myers' Bio Design explores the intersection of design and biology.

We can already store Shakespeare’s sonnets in DNA. What if we could use trees as city lights, or turn pigeon poop into natural street cleaner?

William Myers’ new book, Bio Design: Nature + Science + Creativity, imagines a world where grass is grown into benches, bacteria is wearable clothing and animals can help their owners breathe. Highlighting collaboration between designers and biologists, it’s a collection of the most innovative ideas biodesign — design that incorporates living materials — has to offer.

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Fusing natural organisms with human innovation, these designs — some of them far-fetched concepts, some prototypes and some completed projects — re-imagine our relationship with the natural world.


To make this prototype, creator Suzanne Lee added bacteria to a sugary green tea mixture containing yeast and let it grow for a few weeks. When dried flat, the compostable material can be sewn and dyed like a textile. The bacterial cellulose feels like fake leather.

Harmonia 57

This office space in Sao Paulo, Brazil, features walls made of a porous concrete where plants can take root. An irrigation system crisscrosses the outer walls of the building, watering the plants with rainwater and wastewater collected on-site.

Taking Root

In Meghalaya, a state in northeast India, the rubber tree Ficus elastica is encouraged to grow its roots across a river by a betel nut trunk cut in half and hollowed out into a half-cylinder. After taking root in the opposite bank, the living bridge can last for hundreds of years.

Jellyfish Light

The Genetic Barcelona Project proposes introducing a luminescence gene found in a jellyfish into the DNA of trees to create a more nature-friendly streetlight. It might be a while before your trees start glowing at night, though — it’s still just a concept.

Optimal Seating

Alberto T. Estevez, the Genetic Barcelona Project’s creator, also helped create the Biodigital Chair. Using parametric design tools, its designers determined the optimal shape for seating, then grew a layer of grass over the wooden model.

Life Support

For Life Support, designer Revital Cohen proposes using retired racing greyhounds as respiratory assistants. The dog’s breathing would pump air into its owners lungs. (Another one of the project’s designs proposed using a transgenic lamb as a living dialysis machine.) The real question: Would that dog chase a bunny on a stick?

Pigeon d’Or

Tuur Van Balen’s concept envisions a world in which the rat of the sky becomes an urban street cleaner. Pigeons could eat a yogurt that would alter their metabolism so that their waste becomes a detergent. As they fly about the city, doing what birds do best, their soapy droppings would clean the city. Just hope it doesn’t land on your head.


This prototype looks like an advertisement, but it’s actually a giant petri dish. Using bacteria the designer created a living typeface that will eventually die and decompose.


The movie Contagion employed a similar marketing tactic in 2011, installing “bacteria message boards” in an empty Toronto storefront. Over six days, the mix of bacterial and fungal strains grew into the film’s logo.

Hydro-net SF 2108

IwamotoScott Architecture’s concept for the San Francisco of the future includes algae-storing towers that would house supplies of water and hyrdogen. Water collectors would draw water from the surrounding fog. They even found an upside to climate change, proposing the expected 10- to 16-foot rise in sea level be used to grow more algae for biofuel.

Fab Tree Hab

It would take five years for this home to grow enough to be habitable, but that’s a small price to pay for a living treehouse. The design concept, from MIT, requires guided growth of self-grafting trees like oak or elm. Criss-crossed branches form the walls, where soil inserted into layers of interlacing vines allows plants to grow.