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What is Next Nature?

With our attempts to cultivate nature, humankind causes the rising of a next nature, which is wild and unpredictable as ever. Wild systems, genetic surprises, autonomous machinery and splendidly beautiful black flowers. Nature changes along with us.

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Microbial Factories

Proteine für Oberflächen / Proteins for surfaces
Bigger isn’t always better

Humans have relied on microbes for millennia. Yeast brews our beer and raises our bread. Bacteria in our guts keep us healthy. Microscopic phytoplankton in the ocean produce half of the world’s oxygen.

Thanks to genetic engineering, technology, and good old evolution, humans are about to enter into a new phase of our ancient partnership. We may soon create bacteria that eat plastic, emit light, and even tell us whether or not we’re healthy. When it comes to microbes, big things come from small packages.

E. Chromi

E. Chromi

In 2009, undergraduates at the University of Cambridge worked with scientists and artists to engineer E. coli into E. chromi, a new type of bacteria that secretes a range of colorful pigments.

Bacteria R Us

There is a domain of creatures that diffusively encircles an entire planet. There are so many of them that they occupy every conceivable ecological niche. Yet, despite their countless numbers they are so in tune with their local ecology that they have become an intrinsic part of it. Those that live in rural locations greatly outnumber those that inhabit strange cites, which are gregarious, smart and even have their own personalities.

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An alien naturalist might consider humans as little more than smart city housing for bacterial colonies.

— Rachel Armstrong

Bacteria that Eat Waste and Shit Petrol

Energy problem? Why not genetically alter bacteria to have them provide ‘renewable petroleum’. Crude oil is only a few molecular stages removed from the acids normally excreted by yeast or E. coli during fermentation, it does not take much fiddling to get the desired result. Will we soon be driving on bacteria shit?

“Ten years ago I could never have imagined I’d be doing this,” says Greg Pal, 33, a former software executive, as he squints into the late afternoon Californian sun. “I mean, this is essentially agriculture, right? But the people I talk to – especially the ones coming out of business school – this is the one hot area everyone wants to get into.”

He means bugs. To be more precise: the genetic alteration of bugs – very, very small ones – so that when they feed on agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw, they do something extraordinary. They excrete crude oil.

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Bacteria that Eat Waste and Shit Petrol
Evolutionary Janitors

Evolutionary Janitors

We normally think of polluted water as the source of disease, not the cure for it. The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, affectionately known as the Super Fun Superfund, is one of the most polluted bodies of water in America. Most of the water is too low in oxygen to support plant or animal life. Worse still is the toxic mud at the bottom of the canal, rich in lead, dioxins, and mercury from decades of unchecked dumping from heavy industry.

The canal might run with poison, but it hasn’t stopped enterprising New Yorkers, human and microbe alike, from making a living at the location.

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Bioluminescent bacteria light up these petri dishes. Bioluminescent bacteria light up these petri dishes.

Little Green Cows

The world is alight with algae fever.

In this age of deep ecological design aspirations, the range of speculative design projects based on algae technology is growing. Algae are imagined to provide a whole range of solutions, from energy-producing architectural towers, to lights, burgers, skin care products, animal feed, drug factories and bioplastics. It finally appears that the world is turning green. Literally.

Algae, simple photosynthetic plants that live in water, are among some of the oldest living organisms on earth. Most species can only be seen with a microscope, but others can form dense mats of vegetation or large underwater forests. During the Archean period, between 3.9 and 3.5 billion years ago, blue-green algae* set the preconditions for modern life by changing the earth’s atmosphere, which was choked with poisonous gases, and turning it into an oxygen-rich environment. Their modern-day descendants can use a range of pigments to harvest specific wavelengths of light to form solid plant matter, or ‘biomass’, by using sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce fuel, water and oxygen.

Indeed, the ability of algae to fix carbon is such that they’ve become the technology of choice for carbon capture. We already know that they can make a large-scale impact. In fact, algae are so relentless, work so quickly and on such a scale that up until this moment in time they’ve been regarded in an extremely negative manner. Algae have been called by many names, most of them not at all complementary: Weeds, blight, bloom, deadly foam and literally, the scum of the earth. Despite their current reprieve as a possible solution to escalating carbon dioxide levels, there are still more products on …

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Live with micro-algae

The Eco Pod is a experimental design proposal towards the production of clean and renewable energy, which should operate in old, abandoned buildings. Pending an eventual recovery, these buildings become vertical bioreactor that supports micro-algae which produce energy for the city.

The idea comes from the American studios Höweler + Yoon Architecture and Squared Design Lab. It was created to stimulate the economy and ecology of the city of Boston.  This way, structures, ruins of abandoned buildings are turned into high-impact capsules coated with multiple ground source of bio-fuels. In this case the micro-algae is 30 times more efficient per acre than traditional.

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Engineered Bacteria heal Cracks in Walls

Researchers have designed bacteria that can produce a special glue to knit together cracks in concrete structures.

Technews Daily reports the genetically modified microbes have been engineered to swim down fine cracks in concrete and once at the bottom produce a mixture of calcium carbonate and a bacterial glue. The building is “knitted” back together as the glue combines with the filamentous bacterial cells and hardens to the same strength as the surrounding concrete.

The bacterium tweaked by the …

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