Probiotic architecture brings good bacteria to architectural design – World Bio Market Insights

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Bacteria can make our buildings healthier. This is from experts in microbial architecture, the emerging field of bioeconomics where architecture and microbiology intersect.

Microbial architecture, also known as probiotic design, finds ways to incorporate living communities of microorganisms (known as the microbiome) into the design of buildings and interiors. Depending on the species that make up the microbiome and their abundance ratios, these invisible aggregates can carry out different biochemical activities that benefit our health.

This is still a nascent field and has little application outside of small experimental setups. But as interest in the power of the microbiome grows in fields as diverse as health, epidemiology, and environmental planning, there are soon to be start-ups selling microbial communities that people can grow at home for specific health benefits. maybe.

Importance of the microbiome

Microbiomes exist in every environment on earth. Although they are small, they are present in sufficient abundance to trigger planetary-scale phenomena such as nutrient cycling that push phosphorus and nitrogen into the Earth’s system. Our bodies perform important functions to keep us alive.

We are all familiar with probiotic yogurt, which delivers live beneficial bacteria to the gut. The bacteria in probiotic foods have been selected to support a diverse community of microbes within our digestive tract. Here, these tiny biochemical machines produce compounds our bodies cannot produce, such as vitamins, antioxidants and enzymes. Scientists are realizing how our microbiome influences our health by fighting inflammation, regulating our metabolism, and even affecting our mood.

Microbial architecture also runs on a similar concept. The idea here is to seed buildings and surfaces with carefully selected microbial species that can coexist in stable communities. Synthetic biology also allows us to fine-tune that genetic material to perform specific functions.

Bacteria as architectural and design technology

Scientists already know that the types of microbes present in our immediate surroundings can affect the microbes that live in our bodies. The design of probiotics can also support our health by actively encouraging the growth of specific microorganisms in our living spaces that confer specific health benefits.

By colonizing the floors, ceilings and surfaces of our homes, the health-supporting microbiome can be replaced by populations of infectious microbes that can cause disease. The architectural microbiome can be thought of as the surrounding health supplement that we take in as we go about our daily lives. Custom microbiomes can also filter and metabolize pollutants, reducing the health risks of polluted urban indoor air.

Microbial architecture limits the need for chemical cleaners and fossil polymer-coated surfaces that have kept modern hospitals, homes and public transportation clean, offering an unusual route to more sustainable design. increase. This is because these organisms are highly efficient chemical producers, requiring little input and drawing energy only from their surroundings.

Microbiome for safer hospitals

The Organic Area Niche in Bioaugmented Design at University College London (NOTBAD) is one of the research centers on microbial architecture. Their focus is on the important application area of ​​fighting antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most serious global health problems facing us today. Our dependence on antibiotics and antimicrobial chemicals has set off an evolutionary arms race, lest certain strains of harmful bacteria rapidly become resistant to our most powerful drugs and chemicals. It is According to a 2014 WHO announcement, continued use of antibiotics and bacterial cleaning agents could lead to a future where minor injuries can easily lead to death.

Antimicrobial resistance is a particular problem in hospitals, which are ideal incubators for superstrains because antibiotics and antimicrobial chemicals are frequently used and easily transmitted between patients.

Hospitals typically try to combat infectious disease outbreaks by sterilizing instruments and surfaces with strong chemicals that kill all bacteria present. This approach is counterproductive as it wipes out not only harmful species but also benign and beneficial species. By eliminating competition for resources, sterilization makes it more likely that more potent and harmful bacterial strains will dominate ecosystems.

NOTBAD is studying how mixed communities of beneficial bacteria can be released into hospitals to balance out more harmful strains. Culturing stable communities of diverse and beneficial bacteria on hospital walls and surfaces is a more permanent way to ensure a healthier environment for patients, by letting biology do our job. Offers.

Richard Beckett, Pioneer of Probiotics

Hospitals aren’t the only places where the microbiome can improve our lives. Richard Beckett is a UCL-based probiotics designer working on ways to use bacteria to create a healthy home. He hopes to find practical ways to wrap buildings in what he calls an “invisible microbial fabric,” a living layer that maintains our health and well-being.

In 2020, Beckett won the Royal Institute of British Architects Award for his work on developing living building materials that can be easily implanted with beneficial bacteria. In the winning experiment, Probiotics built the surfaces of his tiles out of ceramic and concrete and tested their effect on microbial diversity throughout the building the tiles were placed inside. His work showed that live bacterial communities can prevent the growth of harmful pathogens by promoting robust and diverse assemblages of healthy bacterial communities.

Beckett argues that the field of probiotic design is compatible with the broader bio-based shift in design and architecture occurring today. The quest for sustainable materials in architecture is driving an industry openness to new organic materials. Organic materials are generally better at supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria than the building materials we tend to use today, such as steel.

For him, the main problem with probiotic structures is ensuring that a stable population of selected microorganisms can survive indoors for long periods of time. Much of his award-winning research focuses on finding strains adapted to arid environments. One of the species he studied was Bacillus subtilis, a beneficial bacterium commonly found in soil and in the intestines of animals.

However, even the most resilient bacterial species require suitable substrate materials that can support them for long periods of time. Substrate materials have become an important part of microbiome technology, allowing the microbiome to remain dormant and conserve energy until certain environmental changes, such as mold infestation or air pollution, initiate microbiome metabolism and proliferation. can. Fixtures must promote rapid bacterial growth, yet be cost-effective and easily accessible for normal building extensions.

Beckett found that the best probiotic building materials are ceramic-based hybrid materials that maximize bacterial survival. Using this, he created a series of architectural tiles with different surface morphologies and textures and tested them to see which versions attracted and cultivated the most diverse combinations of beneficial microbes. His aim was to develop building materials that would provide the most attractive environment for health-supporting microbes.

Understanding the microbial world

Commercializing the indoor microbiome will require not only an understanding of what materials can support active populations of healthy microorganisms, but also microbiological testing services that can analyze the microbial communities present in buildings. increase. A University of Minnesota spin-off, CoreBiome, is one example of a startup that provides sampling and analysis of microbiomes inhabiting all environments, from farmlands to humans.

Investigation of the indoor microbiome can guide designers as to what species mixtures may improve the environment. With the genomic information available from companies like CoreBiomes, future startups could one day assess microbial deficiencies in indoor spaces and create tailored microbiomes to improve their health profiles. will be Once a building is seeded with a specific microbiome, these sampling services may provide insight into how well functional species survive and proliferate.

But before we can directly manipulate the probiotic properties of buildings, more research is needed to pinpoint exactly what species and microbiomes affect human health. You need to do.

Scientists know that there is a strong link between the diversity of beneficial microbes in our bodies and positive health outcomes. However, the precise effects of microbiome-to-microbiome interactions in our bodies and environment are still poorly understood.

Researchers also need to better understand which combinations of which species provide what functions. Probiotic architecture engages architects in the conversation, asking what kinds of building materials and spaces are needed to support the long-term survival of microbial mixtures that have specific effects on the body’s health. increase.

Fortunately, microbiome research is a thriving field. mBodyMap is a curated database listing associations between microbial species and human health and disease, potentially facilitating research into which microbes may prove useful in architectural design. It’s a kind of effort.

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