Living Bacteria as a natural dye

Natsai Audrey Chieza works at the intersection of biology and design, and wants to show how living organisms can make sustainable materials

Silk dyed as part of Project Coelicolor   Toby Coulson

Silk dyed as part of Project Coelicolor

Toby Coulson

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Designer Natsai Audrey Chieza has an unusual creative partner: the soil-dwelling bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor. Under the right conditions, S. coelicolor produces a pigmented compound, which Chieza uses to dye fabric and garments in patterned hues of pink, purple and blue. “It dyes textiles in a colourfast manner with barely any water and no chemicals,” Chieza says. “In many ways, that's the definition of a natural dye.”

Chieza has been working with her “companion species” since 2011 and this year launched Faber Futures, a London-based biodesign lab that aims to help other researchers and companies harness the power of living organisms to develop their own sustainable materials. “Project Coelicolor is a great way to say, ‘This is what we did with this micro-organism; let us help you figure out what to do with yours,’” she says

Regardless the industry, Chieza hopes that biodesign can lead the way to more sustainable means of production, helping manufacturers to shift away from petroleum-based materials, divest from fossil fuels and reduce waste. With Faber Futures, she is also keen to develop an ethical framework for working with living organisms. “If we can engineer life, that means science has become a design space," she says.