Space & Innovation

Synthetic Creatures Could Save the Planet

A designer proposes using synthetic animals to help perpetuate natural species and also clean up the environment that threatens them.

According to the WWF, at least 10,000 species of animals become extinct every year. It seems that conservation efforts alone cannot stem the obliteration of animal life on the planet. A new project by

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg

, a designer and artist, and design fellow on Synthetic Aesthetics project, questions whether humanity could tolerate using synthetic animals to help perpetuate natural species and also clean up the environment that threatens them.

The project, Designing For the Sixth Extinction, is part of the

Grow Your Own, Life After Nature

, and invites people to consider the implication of synthetic life. Specifically, it focuses on the the relationship between conservation, biodiversity and synthetic biology, imagining what four bio-engineered creatures could do if released into the wild.

Bioaerosol Microtrapping Biofilm

This self-replicating biofilm acts as a protective coating on leaf surfaces to prevent airborne pollutants as well as fungal spores from damaging the plant. The biofilm traps the particles, but doesn't interfere with the leaf's ability to function. When the leaf falls at the end of the season, the trapped matter goes with it. The bio-waste is collected and processed by another synthetic creature, the Mobile Bioremediation Unit.

Photos: Hacking Bacteria to Do Our Bidding

Mobile Bioremediation Unit

Reminiscent of a leaf or a slug, this critter is designed for bioremediation. It moves through a forest floor, disturbing the topsoil as it goes along, in search of soil with high acid levels caused by pollution. When it finds such dirt, it disperses an alkali hygroscopic fluid to neutralize the acid. The unit has two extra bases in its DNA, making it inedible to other animals. A genetic kill-switch limits the device to a 28-day lifespan.

Video: Synthetic Life Becomes a Reality

Autonomous Seed Disperser

This synthetic animal looks like a hedgehog at first glance, but its job is to rove the earth and collect and disperse seeds. It moves by flexing and contracting its chassis. Coarse hairs and rubbery spines on top are designed to collect and distribute seeds. The creature gets power from waste collected by the Mobile Bioremediation Unit and has a lifespan of 600 days.

Photos: When Art Meets Science

Self-inflating Antipathogenic Membrane Pump

This single-use device treats the infection that causes Sudden Oak Death. It begins as a tiny spore that establishes itself in oak trees. When a biochemical sensor inside detects the presence of infection in the tree, the synthetic organism begins to grow into a double-chamber bubble. The inner chamber produces an antipathogenic serum; the outer chamber serves as a pump to push the serum into the infection site. After it has injected the medicine, the pump deflates, decouples and falls to the forest floor, where it's picked up by a bioremediation unit.

Photos: Unreal Micro-Art: How Did They Do That?