kombucha · Applied Research Program
After the success of the reGROW project, thr34d5 has launched its first research program as a way to foster local communities with open source knowledge.
We are unrolling during two years a research program that will feature workshops, and artistic & industrial partnerships in order to valorizing kombucha as a raw material for its communitarian value by fostering the democratization its engineering.
The SCOBY – Symbiotic Cultures Of Bacteria and Yeast – are living communities composed of microorganisms – kombucha is a part of this group. Numerous design projects are using the latest for its mat, it has become representative of this biological class.
The symbolic value of kombucha, as a living material with emerging practical and social usages, that interests us here.
Kombucha is one of the most promising natural, renewable polymers for use in a wide scope of applications, given the ease with which it can be grown. Kombucha is composed of an extracellular gelatine-like material grown aerobically by Gluconacetobacter xylinus at the surface of a glucose-base solution. The fibres of this material are composed of bacterial cellulose, which is about 100 times thinner than the fibres found in plant cellulose, which contributes with its numerous hydrogen bonds to have cellulose chains joined in highly ordered structures. This gives the kombucha pellicle a high elasticity and tensile strength: 15-35 GPa Young’s modulus, 200-300 MPa tensile strength; compared with leather values of: 0,1-0,5 GPa Young’s modulus, 20-26 MPa tensile strength.
Kombucha’s growth and transformation require care, and the mobilizable knowledges associated with its production and use are frequently freely shared online. We notice that these global knowledges are interfacing with the micro-organism’s phenotypical expression on a local level: we are in the presence of a material that is each time unique and necessitates for various caring practices depending on its sources, its biological composition, the expression of its genes.
Kombucha is being extensively used in biohacking projects, among amateur growers, and research programs are exploring its application in the medical field. While amateurs develop creative uses of this biomaterial, they critically lack funding to investigate the phenotypical expression of bacterial cellulose by Gluconacetobacter xylinus, or the methodology to scale-up their investigations or applications. In the meantime, the medical device industry is developing products embedding this biomaterial, such as bioactive bandages that help repair skin injuries and ailments (see as an example: D.F. Ring, W. Nashed, T. Dow. Liquid loaded pad for medical applications. US Patent US 4 588 400, 1986).
It is by social proximity that one will get a first kombucha strain, a mother. We are transmitting these living treasures from peer-to-peer in the biohacking and amateur growers communities. We are observing that social groups are forming, thanks to this living material; the micro-landscape resonates with our meta-communities.
While SCOBY’s scientific behaviour is poorly understood by humans, we perceive how its behaviour and geographic specificities are cultivating our curiosities and inter-species collaboration imaginaries.
In choosing kombucha to be the technical object of our first Applied Research Program, we want to find ways to develop the technical knowledge that is available about this highly promising micro-organism. By open sourcing the produced knowledge we are interested in measuring the social impact that this transfer has, and how curious people aggregate to form an autonomous community of practices t the local and global scale.
We are opening the program to curious and amateur growers for collaboration and to offer a space for experiments in living materials. We will soon offer internship positions.
. Niels Barateig: Design Researcher
. Diane Laurent: Design Researcher