Biodesign Projects

Research into Coral and Algae:

When I started this project I looked into various micro-organisms ranging from slide mould to forms of fungi. I found myself particularly interested in ‘Algae’. The first thing I did was type  ‘Algae’ to Google and it gave me an array of definitions, wikipedia’s was the easiest for me to understand: a simple non- flowering, and typically aquatic plant part of a large assemblage that includes seaweeds and many single- celled forms. Algae is very popular, diverse and found all over the world, just from this initial research I wanted to explore more.

Algae is photosynthetic which means it releases oxygen because of this quality, the organism makes up a high percentage of the earths oxygen supply. This helps plants and marine life grow while also being many animals main food and oxygen source. Algae are single celled and  float on water, they absorb food through their cell walls. They can multiply and that’s how they can cover large surface areas.

Algae is a very large and there are many different groups. subgroups and forms of this organism. The two largest sub groups were red algae and green algae.  Green algae is most commonly land plants from marine and fresh waters. There are many various forms in this group such as Eugkenoza, Cecoza and Glaucopyta. Red Algae always inhabits marine environments and is multicellular.

This is a diagram which show’s the different groups of Algae

Morover, algae is not only common in sea and lakes but can even be found on animals (like turtles), it is essential to some underwater animals as it can provide shade to them when needed. Some forms of algae have high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, this is eaten by many types of fish. Fish oils contain omega three which is surrounded by algae, it is eaten by the animals and passed up the food chain

 Having lots of types of algae is good and healthy for the eco system, the ocean being one of the largest. Algae absorbs nutrients, ammonia and phosphorus as too many of these can be bad for the overall health of water. From this I wanted to focus on something that heavily depends on algae to survive, I looked into coral due to the fact it is necessary to our oceans eco system and how coral reefs face many threats.

coral bleaching
Diagram illustrating the effects of coral bleaching

Initially, I looked into the relationship that the algae and coral have. A healthy coral relies in the algae to survive, they depend on each other. Once the coral begins to get stressed to due ‘coral bleaching’ then the algae will leave the coral. The coral is then left bleached and vulnerable, without the algae it looses its food source, causing it to turn pal and more to susceptible diseases. The main causes of coral bleaching are:

  • Change in the ocean temperature– This is the number one cause for coral bleaching and it is due to climate change and the increased temperature.
  • Run off and pollution– storm generated precipitation can rapidly dilute ocean water and runoff can carry pollutants, these can bleach near shore corals.
  • Exposure to sunlight– when the temperatures are high, high solar irradiance contributes to bleaching in shallow water corals.
  • Extreme low tides– exposure to the air during extreme low tides can cause bleaching in shallow corals

In coral polyps there is a symbolic relation between the algae and the coral and this relation is called zooxanthellae. The coral provides the algae with a protected environment and the compounded needed for it to photosynthesise. This is described as a yellowish brown dinoflagellate in large numbers in the cytoplasm and many marine invertebrates, including coral polyps. This ‘zooexanthellene’ lives in the coral tissues and when coral becomes stressed the relationship is broken.

This image shows the ‘zooxanthellae’ in the coral

Finally,  E.chromi, this is an idea of based of synthetic biology which theres a colour indicator added They engineered bacteria into produce a variety of coloured pigments, visible to the naked eye. This can help detect diseases and hopes in the future to help warn people about excess pollution in the sky. I could relate this idea to coral bleaching, if the coral is showing signs of being stressed it could change colour and this could somehow be communicated to marine life and not harm the eco system.


Algae, Edible Culture, and Contemporary Design

The vast fields of deep sea grass and thick diffused fog of iridescent river microbes share a common ancestry – both of Familiae Eukarayota, or Algae, in a partnership going back 1,600 million years.

Human interaction with algae came after hundreds of million years of evolution, first introduced as edible seaweed to Chinese nobility around 2700BC – alongside the birth of the silk trade and the Pyramids of Giza.

Algae has been found in pre-Christian fabric dyes along the Mediterranean coast, and in medieval fertiliser along the Irish sea – with Victorians even finding art in leaves of seaweed, the first photo-book published in 1843 featuring cyanotypes of pressed algae samples collected around the Kent coast. Diatom Arrangement even became quite popular during the later 19th century, being the practise of arranging micron-sized algae into patterns under a microscope.HistoryofAlgae1


So from the fields of shallow water surrounding Yokohama Bay to the scrapbooks of Victorian housewives, algae has been found woven into a number of historical uses, cultural narratives and practises.

Algae is therefore safe from the public eye and will likely continue to be used within cuisine, fabrics – but the emerging talents of synthetic biology and design will be amongst the first to promote new uses for algae.

The field, however, suffers from an image issue – conceptual projects are too elitist and abstracted for the non-designer, attracting parody and mockery instead of provoking serious discussion. It is a disgrace to the synthetic biology industry that great ideas are hindered by public perception – both due to collective ignorance of the subject from the public, and the arrogance of the scientists and designers that work with synthetic biology.

Realistic design futures make them selves known in developed steps, rather than leaps of imagination – as William Gibson famously said of first-world development; “The future has already arrived, it’s just not evenly distributed yet”.