What Biodesign Means to Me

By Harpreet Sareen

I imagine that over the next decade humans will form a kind of symbiosis with the plant kingdom where bioengineered plants change colors to signal the presence of pollutants in the air, land, and waterways.

Rainbows of color in the foliage might reveal the myriad ways we humans have impacted the natural world. They might warn us when a factory is releasing contaminated runoff or emitting hazardous fumes into the air. At home when you water the plants, their leaves might change colors to tell you the concentration of toxic metals or harmful bacteria in the tap. In the city squares, urban gardens might provide living information about local environmental health. They might even help us navigate and point you to your destination with their branches using the same cellular mechanisms that point them to the sun.

I am a professor of interaction design, a field that usually investigates relationships between people and products. My practice, however, focuses on people’s interactions with plants; I create plant technologies or what I call bio-digital hybrids [1]. My designs may seem whimsical and at odds with our current ideas about nature, but I argue that the status quo exists because our relationship with nature has been stymied.

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