Jen Keane

MA Material Futures

Jen Keane

With micro-plastic pollution, increasing land and water scarcity, and over-consumption, we have a real material problem. We need to find another way of making and everyone is turning to biotechnology for a solution. But what does the future of biofacture really look like?

‘This is Grown.’ employs an organism-driven approach to material design, merging modern, industrial textile practice with future biotech principles. It proposes an alternate future where a better understanding of microorganisms could help us not just replace petrochemical-based materials but change our entire approach to making.

By manipulating the growing process of k. rhaeticus bacteria, I have developed a new form of “microbial weaving”. I have been working with microbes such as bacteria and yeast to optimise the natural properties of bacterial cellulose and create a new category of hybrid materials that are strong, lightweight and potentially customisable to a nanoscale.

If we talk about the work in relation to traditional weaving, I am doing the warp and the bacteria are growing the weft. However, because the bacteria are so small you don’t have the same restrictions of directionality that you would have with a traditional loom.

The interesting part will come when we employ synthetic biology to control the types of fibres the microbes produce, and how and where they grow. As we begin to exercise our new knowledge of nature to try and solve our material problems, we have to accept that we may not be collaborating with nature anymore but controlling it.

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