Sarine Zaken is the world’s first designer to incorporate living bacteria into clothing and jewelry that people can actually wear! A third year student at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, the young Israeli fantasized about incorporating something alive into her final project.
While that may seem a bit creepy at first, a chance encounter led her to Professor Eshel Ben Jacob, whose work with a unique bacteria called Paenibacillaceae completely revolutionized her design approach.
Discovered by Professor Jacob in 1990, Paenibacillacea is a particularly complex type of bacteria that depends on communication and organization for survival.
Zaken told No Camels that she learned about it through a friend of hers who studies at the University of Tel Aviv. She contacted Professor Jacob, who invited her to work in his lab, and she quickly became enamored with the similarities between the bacteria’s social structure and that of humans.
Whilst communicating with other cells for information about food and movement, Paenibacillacea colonies form wild patterns – none of which can be replicated entirely as their communication behavior is different every time.
But Zaken can come close. In order to achieve a set design, she can dictate how the bacteria cells communicate by manipulating the insemination process in a petri dish. Although, she told No Camels, it’s not easy to control the behavior of millions of bacteria.
Once she is satisfied, she adds dye to the resulting patterns, which are then used to make one-of-a-kind clothing and jewelry designs.
“The secret that permits survival of the bacteria is the corporation between them. The germs activate high communication mechanism that resemble chemical network [sic],” Zaken notes on her website. (By 2022 her website is offline)