Hybrid Textiles: Cyanophytes

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Helion 15, is a unique and living biomaterial made from little more than sunlight and air. Its basis is a type of autotrophic photosynthetic bacterium called a Cyanophyte. This particular type of cyanobacterium grows in the form of  filaments which have a unique and “intelligent” self-weaving activity (see the video below), so as the organism grows, it automatically self-assembles into a mat .

In liquid cultures, the biomaterial forms complex floating  mats of interwoven filaments  (see images below)

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A freeform of the Oscillatoria-based biomaterial growing in liquid media. Small bladders of photosynthetically produced oxygen allow it to float.

 

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A freeform of the Oscillatoria-based biomaterial growing in liquid media. Small bladders of photosynthetically produced oxygen allow it to float.

 

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A freeform of the Oscillatoria-based biomaterial growing in liquid media. Small bladders of photosynthetically produced oxygen allow it to float.

One of the remarkable properties of this biomaterial is that it is able to repair itself when damaged.  In the videos below,  dress-like mats of Helion 15 are shaken and dispersed, and then over a period of around 10 minutes real-time,  they reassemble to re-generate the original forms.

When grown on solid surfaces Helion 15 forms elaborate and green curved tendrils (see images below)

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Complex forms of Helion 15 growing on a solid surface

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Complex forms of Helion 15 growing on a solid surface

 

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Complex forms of Helion 15 growing on a solid surface

 

I am  currently exploring  Helion 15  with conceptual women’s wear designer Victoria Geaney (Royal College of Art). Entitled Oscillatoria Sutured,  our work will be in an exhibition curated by Biofaction called Possible Tomorrows which will take place at Vienna Design Week (30 Sept-09 Oct).

We are currently characterising this  exciting and unique biomaterial as it forms symbiotic relationships with traditional textiles. As it grows on these textiles. the organism not only infiltrates the fabric fibres but it also moves beyond the material onto the surface that holds it making it difficult to determine where the manmade material ends and the purely  biological organism begins (see images below).

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A lace/Cyanobacterium hybrid biomaterial. The bacterium infiltrates the textile (left) and then moves from the manmade textile and spreads over the surfaces beyond this so that it’s difficult to determine where the manmade material ends and the purely biological organism begins.

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A cotton/Cyanobacterium hybrid biomaterial. The bacterium infiltrates the textile (left) and then moves from the manmade textile and spreads over the surfaces beyond this so that it’s difficult to determine where the manmade material ends and the purely biological organism begins.

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A fabric /Cyanobacterium hybrid biomaterial. The bacterium infiltrates the textile (left) and then moves from the manmade textile and spreads over the surfaces beyond this so that it’s difficult to determine where the manmade material ends and the purely biological organism begins.

When the same biomaterial is viewed under the microscope, it can be seen that the cyanobacterium has also filled in some of the minute holes in the textile, adding its own designs, functions,  and embellishments to the material (see below).

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The Cyanobacterium/lace hybrid with 10x magnification.

 

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The Cyanobacterium/lace hybrid with 10x magnification.

 

When cotton is used as a substrate for the Cyanophyte similar activity is seen (seen images below)

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The Cyanobacterium/cotton hybrid with no magnification.

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The Cyanobacterium/cotton hybrid with 10x magnification.

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The Cyanobacterium/cotton hybrid with 20x magnification.

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The Cyanobacterium/cotton hybrid with 40x magnification.

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