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The next big home design trend? Bacteria

Outfit the nursery with living wallpaper, bacteria-made diapers, and an algae composter.

The next big home design trend? Bacteria
Yundo [Image: courtesy Universidad de los Andes]

Textiles, wood, plastic, glass, paper–these are the kinds of materials we’re used to having in our homes. But there are new experimental materials coming, and they’re made of something that sounds grosser than it is: bacteria.

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That’s right–these are tiny microorganisms that you want in your home. At the 2018 Biodesign Challenge Summit, an annual competition between design students working with biological materials, there was a plethora of products (conceptual and otherwise) that aim to bring the benefits of bacteria into your house. From living wallpaper to a microbiome analyzer for the bathroom, these prototypes and concepts show why having more microorganisms in your home isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

[Image: courtesy Universidad de los Andes]

Biofiltering wallpaper

Created by students at the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, Yando is a protoype for air-purifying wallpaper that’s made from cyanobacteria–the bacteria that power photosynethesis in plants. They clean the air of your house by turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, but because they’ve been reengineered, the bacteria pull double duty as air fresheners. They also light up at night, acting like a nightlight or just a living piece of art.

[Image: Universidad de Istmo]

Microbially enhanced flooring

A group of students from the Universidad del Istmo in Guatemala created a new way of thinking about floors that mimic the look of tiles but are actually made of biologically reduced waste from the construction industry. For the project, called Organic Remediation Materials, the team proposes using different colored tiles in patterns that mimic the country’s textiles.

In more commercial or industrial settings, the project MyStep from Arizona State University proposes using mycelium flooring tiles embedded with sensors that aim to transform foot traffic into kinetic energy.

[Image: School for the Art Institute of Chicago]

Bacterial cellulose diapers and compost bin

The Sorbit diaper [Image: courtesy UC Davis]
Parents would probably be alarmed at the thought of more bacteria near where their baby sleeps. But a team of students from UC Davis has created a fully biodegradable diaper made from citrus waste that has been transformed into bacterial cellulose–which feels a bit like plastic, but you can toss it in the garden when you’re done. There’s also an absorbent layer of Aerogel that the students grew using the bacterial cellulose to soak up any liquid (or solids).

Then, when the diaper–called Sorbit–is full and needs to be thrown out, you could toss it into another student project called Wee Grow. Invented by students at the School for the Art Institute of Chicago, the Wee Pail–which looks just like a trash receptacle–sits in the nursery and speeds up the composting time for biodegradable diapers using algae blooms, which transform the diapers into fertilizer. While the Wee Grow team designed the product to work on the biodegradable diapers that are already on the market, Sorbit’s team points out that even these kinds of diapers have a large environmental impact and often use similar kinds of materials to regular diapers.

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[Image: courtesy Parsons School of Design]

Bathroom bacteria sensor

A concept from the Parsons School of Design aims to take some of the more naturally occurring bacteria you’d find in the home–that which is in the toilet–and analyze it to help you better understand your health. The team describes the idea, called Bactoyou, as a “microbial time machine,” where you can understand the history of your microbiome, or your gut bacteria. It works like this: After using the bathroom, users take a pad from a device next to the toilet and use it to wipe their bum. Then, they feed it back into the device, which uses the sample to asses the user’s microbiome.

The concept also entails a service that would allow you to reconstitute your microbiome from a previous point in time–perhaps to aid in digestion–based on the data by taking oral capsules.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and sign up for her newsletter here: https://tinyletter.com/schwabability

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