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HCI Platform: collection:

Biotechnology and Human Health: Harvesting the technology of plants and microbes to augment the human body (2019)

Curators: Miranda De La Victoria, Leslie Finnoff, Stella Fundingsland, and Tesia Kosmalski | University of Minnesota | December 2019

Collection Editor: Isabel Pedersen
Acquisitions Editor: Ann Hill Duin
Collection Archivists: Sharon Caldwell and Jack Narine

Our collection tracks emerging technologies that integrate both digital and living systems to positively impact human health. We are curious about the potential to utilize the innate technology of plants and microbes to extend embodiment. Biotechnology and Human Health includes entries that range from informational, to wearable, to ingestible, to embeddable. Each curated item directly involves plants or microbes, technology, and wellness.

As digital technologies intersect more and more with the human body, it is worth acknowledging existing generative systems of physical embodiment. Plants sponsor the most fundamental of embodied exchanges by making it possible for us to breathe oxygen. Microbes live and act as preventative treatments on our skin and within our intestines. Though what is presented here does not integrate skin or intestinal microbes specifically, our collection celebrates the same properties and gainable insights from other, similar micro-populations.

In this collection, we see genetically engineered bacteria that are able to detect the flu, diagnose gastrointestinal disorders, and convey information about chemical reactions in the body. Bacteria are also used to power a stretchable, wearable, biobattery. In an examination of our microbiome, we take a look at an interactive facial prosthetic designed to measure and visualize the microorganisms inside of us. The power of plants becomes evident with spinach used to grow heart tissue and parsley used to give form to stem cell scaffolding. We have one art exhibit dedicated to exploring the symbiosis between humans and algae and another exploring the neural connection between humans and the fungal mycelium. Finally, we have included revolutionary concepts by Neri Oxman on the implications of biomimicry and design in the realm of human health and wellness.

Digital technology is an accessible medium that can be used to close the gap between our species. Through this new relationship, our perspectives on the human body and interactive technologies will grow. Understanding these connections will prepare us to speak to future enhancements in biotechnology and synthetic biology. This collection is a glimpse of what is possible.

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