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Thinking Soils: A Synthetic Biology approach to material based design computation

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Martyn Dade-Robertson, Dr Helen Mitrani, Professor Anil Wipat, Carolina Ramirez-Figueroa, Dr Luis Hernandez-Hernandez



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of a conference proceedings (inc. abstract) that has been published in its final definitive form by Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture, 2016.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


The paper details the computational modelling work to define a new type of responsive material system based on genetically engineered bacterial cells. We introduce the discipline of synthetic biology and show how it may be possible to program a cell to respond genetically to inputs from its environment. We propose a system of synthetic bio cementing, where engineered cells, living within a soil matrix, respond to pore pressure changes in their environment when the soil is loaded by synthesising new material and strengthening the soil. We develop a prototype CAD system which maps genetic responses of individual bacteria cells to geotechnical models of stress and pore pressure. We show different gene promoter sensitivities may make substantial changes to patterns of consolidation. We conclude by indicating future research in this area which combines both in vivo and in silico work.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Dade-Robertson M, Corral J, Mitrani H, Zhang M, Wipat A, Ramirez-Figueroa C, Hernan L

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: ACADIA 2016 - Posthuman Frontiers: Data, Designers and Cognitive Machines

Year of Conference: 2016

Pages: 460-469

Print publication date: 27/10/2016

Online publication date: 29/10/2016

Acceptance date: 02/09/2016

Date deposited: 23/01/2017

Publisher: Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture