Human-Bacteria Interfaces

An innovative bioHCI intervention for outer space

A 3D render of bacteria inside bacterial cellulose glowing blue
  • interfaces
  • deep space
  • speculative
Project Dates:


The Human-Bacteria Interfaces project explores new interactions between humans, bacteria and technology, aiming to uncover the profound potentials this symbiotic relationship could have for our technological futures. Similar to other species and matter on Earth, microbes can respond to signals and stimuli from their surroundings. A core element of this concept is examining the potential of designing microbes to become living sensors that can respond through light to stimuli based on their genetic design

Initially, the Human-Bacteria Interface project was chosen from over 1000 submissions to be part of the Driving the Human project and initiative. During 2021-2023, a prototype was developed in partnership with Driving the Human and exhibited at various venues and art institutions throughout this period. Most recently, the prototype installation was exhibited at ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, one of the leading art institutions in the world.

Bacterial Collaboration and Manufacturing

HBIs are imagined to encompass a continuum of diverse potential implementations. However, the current HBI prototype focuses on utilising textile as a skeleton to grow SCOBY, a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The genetically modified microbes in the SCOBY become embedded in a cellulose structure of bacterial origin, forming a jelly-like texture that grows on the textile skeleton, which provides an interface for microbial communication and interaction with the interface's surroundings. Therefore, the jelly-like material acts as a living interface to facilitate human-microbial interaction through its functionality as a biosensor. When the SCOBY is in contact with a specific stimulus, it detects the signal and responds by activating fluorescent proteins, resulting in an atmospheric glow, making an otherwise invisible interaction visible to the human inhabitant. This prototype was defined by understanding how microbial organisms sensorily and habitually engage with their surroundings.

A 3D render of bacterial cellulose growing on textile
Genetically modified SCOBY growing on textile
A 3D render of microbes
A 3D rendering of bacteria at microscopic level

A Biophilic Design Philosophy for the Future

Through the HBI concept, we explore designing through and with the nonhuman other, encountering more-than-human realities that invite us to dive into new perspectives. To understand the other’s needs, perception and possibilities in interaction and co-habitation.  By aiming for a multi-species and more-than-human perspective, a new understanding of the other is nurtured, might this be human, non-human, living, non-living or whole ecosystems. This allows us to challenge current eco-social and political systems that not only affect existence on Earth but also humankind's journey beyond and feeds new thinking into modes of multi-species cohabitation and negotiation between diverse agents. By designing new interactions with microbial others, care and concern for other nonhuman living beings become a conscious part of our everyday experience. At the heart of this concept is a narrative that explores a biophilic turn within the generative genre of design: what if we could design through partnerships with the nonhuman living world (such as microbes) rather than relying solely on the industrial extraction of matter to create the increasingly complex world that surrounds us? How could new relations with microbes build our future homes?

Growing Interfaces for Space Habitats

While the HBI concept wasn't specifically designed for outer space applications, the nature of the concept shows great potential for such an application. Off-Earth settlements will require radically different approaches to methods of procurement and production of materials for interactive technologies and interfaces than those on Earth. This is largely due to the impractical nature of transferring resources from Earth as it is both extremely costly as well as unsustainable in the long term. In-situ resource utilisation and biomining of alien landscapes are often identified as potential material-sourcing solutions for such a dilemma. However, the implications of extractivist approaches to unfamiliar ecologies are yet undetermined. Furthermore, it will take a significant amount of time and effort to not only develop and fine-tune technologies to harvest such matter but also to develop infrastructures off-Earth to process them into useful resources. Leveraging the ideas that emerged through developing the HBI concept, we suggest the exploration of bacterial cellulose as a robust, sustainable and programmable material interface for the prototype development of smart interfaces for outer space.

The concept video for the original HBI prototype