Safe, clean water is fundamental to human wellbeing, yet many people struggle to acquire this basic resource.
Biodesign may tackle the issue of water management by fostering more sustainable relationships between humans and their environments. As something so fundamental to human health, water is a resource that demands attention at every level of society—from product design to municipal water system planning, from the workflow of bottling facilities to state regulations of water usage.
Aqualose, Imperial College London 2014 iGEM team
For the 2014 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition, the Imperial team used synthetic biology to create a strain of E. coli that could produce cellulose. Cellulose is a common biomaterial used to make paper and clothes; it can also be used to filter water. The Imperial team engineered bacterial cellulose to trap specific contaminants. The Imperial team also found that the bacterial cellulose has metal chelating properties (meaning it can remove harmful heavy metals), making it a versatile material. LEARN MORE
Folia Water (The Drinkable Book / Water is Life)
Theresa Dankovich, PhD, is the inventor of germ-killing nano-silver coated paper filters which use non-toxic reagents and renewable materials. She showed at the lab-scale that nano-silver paper filters were highly effective at eliminating bacteria. Since 2014, Dr. Dankovich and her partners have field tested her filters extensively showing repeatedly that they can purify many types of polluted water, including well water, streams, rivers, ponds, springs, and even gray water.
Dr. Theresa Dankovich collaborated with the nonprofit Water is Life to create "The Drinkable Book," a book whose pages act as a paper filter that purifies drinking water, reducing bacterial count by 99.9999%. The book is designed to provide clean water for people living in cities and villages in emerging markets, where there is an urgent need of water purification. Working with a variety of international partners, Dr. Dankovich and Dr. Jonathan Levine (Folia Water's cofounder and CEO) field-tested various filter holder designs and collected feedback from potential customers in Bangladesh, Honduras, and South Africa. LEARN MORE
Oyster-Tecture, Kate Orff
Kate Orff proposes a living reef supported by oyster and mussel growth. Because oysters and mussels act as natural filters, this reef would not only help shorten dangerous waves, but also remove contaminants from millions of gallons of water. In addition to its role as a vast filtration system, Oyster-Tecture is envisioned as a community-based project for Red Hook, Brooklyn, as well as a vast underwater mosaic artwork and park. Oyster-Tecture is currently in pilot development. LEARN MORE
Some marine bacteria and fungi can use hydrocarbons as fuel for their own exponential growth, turning oil spills into carbon dioxide and biomass. Scientists have been studying these microbes for decades. One day, they may play a crucial role not only in cleaning up polluted waters but in breaking down other forms of hydrocarbons such as many plastics. LEARN MORE
Rethinking urban waterways
Parallel Networks, Ali Fard and Ghazal Jafari—winners of the ONE Prize design competition, “Water as the 6th Borough”
Fard and Jafari’s project to rethink the future of New York City’s waterways argues for the incremental creation and trial of various modular floating “pods.” Their envisioned system eventually integrates renewable energy production (energy from wind and biofuel from algae), water filtration, and the creation of natural habitats with the beautification or de novo creation of park-like spaces for people—a new system of productive public space, out on the water. Pods could be added and removed depending on the desired uses of a given environment. Parallel Networks won the Terreform ONE Prize in 2011. LEARN MORE
Banner image: Kate Orff, Oyster-Tecture.