Have you heard of the name Natsai Audrey Chieza? If you haven’t, then please allow me to get you better acquainted with Ms Chieza. Recognised as an early pioneer in the field of biodesign, Natsai has spent the last eight years moulding her career across disciplinary thresholds, blending her expertise of design with the knowledge and methodology of an international network of scientists and technologists.
Creating Meaningful Value for the Circular Bioeconomy
Natsai is the designer-in-residence at the University College London’s Department of Biochemical Engineering and is also the founder of Faber Futures, a startup located in London that explores viable material conditions that benefit this planet and all its inhabitants. “Faber Futures operates at thresholds and intersections – between industries, disciplines and organisms helping us to define opportunities where the powerful language of DNA can be utilised to improve the viability of our material flows,” states the Faber Futures website.
“When you take a designer and place them in a biological, scientific environment, that’s when you get a new way of thinking that can catalyse [this kind of] innovation.”
Working with leading consumer biotechnology companies, multi-sector brands and institutions, Faber Futures is developing both a critical and creative approach to the design of biology by catalysing the alignment of DNA-scale engineering with the methods and principles of design thinking. “We identify where the value lies in designing with living systems and communicate these strategic insights through immersive masterclasses, bespoke research, and special projects”, said Natsai.
With design research at her core, Natsai believes that some of the biggest challenges facing this planet can be found in nature. It is this belief that has been the driving force behind her mission to identify and initiate holistic pathways to sustainable material futures. Learning from living systems and integrating design, biology and technology, Natsai told CNN, “When you take a designer and place them in a biological, scientific environment, that’s when you get a new way of thinking that can catalyse this kind of innovation.”
The TED Talk alumni made a name for herself when she shared how she has been developing dyes from Streptomyces, a bacteria typically found in the roots of plants. “Bacteria produce pigment. They either seep it out of their cell walls, or they hold it within their cell walls,” she explained in a CNN interview. “I became very interested with microbes that seep it out because that seemed like a very low-tech way of actually accessing that colour.” The method she uses means that the pigments derived through the natural excretion process mean that they can dye textiles with about 500 times less water than traditional dyeing, while also cutting the use of harmful synthetic chemicals. This is a necessary change because according to the World Bank, 17-20 per cent of all industrial water pollution is caused by the dyeing or treatment of garments.
Learning from nature, Natsai’s purpose to make a change go beyond anticipating the future, “At Faber Futures we catalyse it by developing design-driven protocols for biofabricated products and materials, alongside scalable and sustainable mechanisms of synthesis”. Collaboration is key at Faber Futures because Natsai knows that creating partnerships with her collaborators, together they can create clear paths for the kind of innovation that will facilitate the global transition to a circular bioeconomy.