MULTISPECIES MATTER. A transdisciplinary investigation of human-plant-microbe cooperations with bacterial cellulose
The emergent field of biodesign focuses on harnessing the capacity of microorganisms to promote regenerative material cultures that are essential for a ‘post-Anthropocene’ Era. With the aim of expanding the scope of this field to currently underexplored edible and health-promoting materialities and applications, this research elaborates on the concept of ‘Multispecies Matter’, a holistic and relational approach to materialities.
Through transdisciplinary investigation, the research focuses on SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeasts), a non-extractive and bacterially-produced source of cellulose that is commonly used in the production of Kombucha and Nata de Coco. Despite the extensive investigation of SCOBY in recent years, there are still several under-studied aspects, including the use of plant-based matter combinations to produce ‘enhanced-SCOBY’ with unique properties and potentials.
By exploring mixtures of discarded fruit and vegetable biomasses with extracts of medicinal plants, SCOBY is proposed as a relational means carrying eco-social values aiming to promote circular production, regenerative health-promoting applications, and (re)connection with traditional knowledge. Enhanced-SCOBY prototypes are foreseen to be designed to provide nutritional, functional, and healing benefits for human bodies and their microbiomes. The proposed research involves ongoing collaboration with microbiologists, material scientists, and anthropologists, utilizing transdisciplinary methods.
With the case of SCOBY, this research aims to demonstrate how ‘Multispecies Matter’ could serve as an open-ended design model adapting to many human-plant-microbe relationships fostering regenerative practices and resilience in different local geographical and socio-cultural contexts.
Emma Sicher is a transdisciplinary designer and fermenter who investigates materials and foods made with microorganisms.
Her training took place at the Faculty of Design and Art in Bozen/Bolzano, where she carried out in-depth research on SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeasts).
She was a research assistant at the Design F(r)iction Lab where she conducted an experimental investigation called InnoCell focusing on the production and material possibilities of SCOBY. Projects she has worked on have been exhibited at the Vitra Design Museum, V&A Dundee, maat, and the ADI Design Museum.
Recently she collaborated with the Laimburg Research Centre in South Tyrol by initiating a project on edible mycelium (Tempeh) and its local eco-social potential in cooperation with the local farmers' union. With a focus on materiality, the semiotics of food, and system dynamics she investigates how microorganisms can contribute to local resilience, themes she also elaborated on in the TEDx Bolzano 2023 edition.
She is currently also affiliated with the Matters of Activity Cluster of Excellence at the Humboldt University of Berlin, where she investigates human-plant-microbe relationships by interweaving design, microbiology, and cultural anthropology.
From Peel To Peel (BA thesis) https://www.dezeen.com/2018/11/13/sustainable-food-packaging-emma-sicher-peel/
InnoCell Bioreactor (as Research assistant) https://designfrictionlab.com/project/bioreactor/
Bacterial cellulose advanced materials (as Research assistant) https://designfrictionlab.com/project/innocell-materials/ and applications https://designfrictionlab.com/project/innocell-mod/