The rate at which science has been evolving for the last few decades suggests it won’t be long before we’re able to build houses with bacteria. Manufacturing processes are close to replacing traditional factories with biological ones, where the tasks performed by digitally controlled machines will be taken by living, breathing and potentially even intelligent organisms.
Biology is becoming increasingly present in research projects that deal with design and manufacturing, but the present of mass production and the manufacturing of everyday objects is still dominated by more-or-less traditional factories. David Benjamin, computational architect and principal of a New York-based practice The Living Thing, as well as a professor at Columbia University claims that cells are soon to become of factories.
The emerging trend is a combination of biology, computer sciences and human intelligence. Goals set by humans are translated into biological models by computers, which results in growing patterned “sheets” of bacterial cells in the lab. The architects are using specially designed software to create multi-material objects digitally and translate them into biological models.
Together with his collaborators, Benjamin is conducting exciting experiments with plant cells, the latest of which is the production of xylem cells – long hollow tubes plants use to transport water. These are computer modeled and grown in a Cambridge University lab and studied to create materials that combine the desired properties of different types of bacteria.
Benjamin claims it could take only 8 to 10 years to see the technology enter commercial production. Living Foundries Program, a Department of Defensive initiative, is already planning to replace the currently used bioengineering with an “on-demand” production process – an idea involving hundreds of millions of dollars and one that could be particularly of interest to companies that finance the military machine. In turn, the “glucose economy” – an economic system that relies on sugar as a primary energy source and a replacement for petroleum – could mean that the entire human civilization might switch from using fossil fuels to those manufactured through photosynthesis.