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Powered by Biology

[Originally published March 2016.]

“We have very friendly bees in the Amazon. You can put them in your hand,” Floating Fab Lab founder Beno Juarez said during a recent interview. “More than 40% of the jungle is pollinated by bees, and we are losing these types of bees.”

Digital fabrication can be used in the construction of beehives, most notably for designing biosensors to go inside the hives, which will monitor and report on the health and status of the swarm. A biosensor would, for example, inform the outside world if the bee population inside in the hive started to plummet–and could even diagnose the reason. Biosensors would in no way disrupt the lives of the bees, allowing them to exist as naturally as possible, yet still provide information for the scientists studying them. The FLF team has its eye on regenerating the bee population of the Amazon, and building beehives fitted with biosensors would be a big step in that direction.

Based in Lima, Luis Flores, Julio Valdivia, and Carlos Venegas Jara are creating “biosensors for real-time environmental monitoring on water bodies around the world,” Carlos wrote. “The main goal is the creation of a network of autonomous, sensing, observant, and cleaning robots.”

Biorobots. Woah.

Luis elaborated: their project is in the research and development phase of a team of biorobots, which will use biosensors to detect specific contaminants in the water. They’re working with the FLF “to develop a biosensor for detecting oil, and bioremediation with bacteria that eats oil (petroleum.)”

PetroPeru may cause disaster after disaster, but positive projects everywhere are fighting back. Based in Boston, Kate Adamala develops biosensors to help monitor conservation efforts. Beno was one of her students at the biohack academy How To Grow Almost Anything (HTGAA), during its first year. Her specialty is synthetic cells. She extracts all the separate, necessary parts of a cell and glues them back together, creating a “completely controllable biological system.” Biosensors are essential to conservation methods because they introduce no foreign organisms.

By studying bioregeneration, Kate believes we can delve into discovering how life first started and how life might continue on other planets. Very much the Citizen Scientist, she runs the BioFab project at the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT and has met most of the FLF team and biohacker community of Lima. “Biological experiments are on the rise,” she said. “It’s not an exclusive club anymore, so everyone can do it. A biohacking community is a great way for people to do research in a way that hasn’t been done before.”

As mentioned in last month’s blog article, Kate and Ilaria La Manna have been developing a bracelet for children to wear that can test heavy metal levels in the water. Beno likened the project to a biosensor. According to Kate, she and Ilaria worked together on the design, and Kate helped pick out the chemistry formulas. Ilaria is currently working on the prototype. Projects like this are inspirational; the FLF and its team members are working within the biological framework to solve environmental problems. Nature herself offers up solutions–we only have to look for them.