Fermenting Futures

Fermenting Futures

Fermenting Futures is a project by artists Alex May and Anna Dumitriu which traverses BioArt, synthetic biology, digital technologies, sculpture, craft and installation and explores the significance of yeast biotechnology from a cultural perspective and seeks to engage arts audiences in the history and future of this important but under-recognised field. The project is created in collaboration with the Institute of Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology at BOKU – Universität für Bodenkultur in Vienna.

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About Fermenting Futures

Yeast is a workhorse of biotechnology nowadays and used at the heart of synthetic biology research for outcomes as diverse as food production, beer and wine production, vaccine manufacture, plastic production and carbon capture. From ancient times it has been integral to human life and some historians even believe that the ability of one yeast to ferment alcohol led to the development of human settlements, as people needed to stay near and farm their crops to make beer.

A key work in the series both explores and physically contains a biotechnologically created yeast that can capture carbon in the atmosphere transformed to create biodegradable plastic for 3D printing. This work brings together various areas of yeast research and points towards efforts in biotechnology to mitigate issues or climate change and plastic pollution. The artists are working with yeast called Pichia pastoris, originally found in the sap of a chestnut tree, which is the subject of focussed research to capture carbon in the atmosphere. Scientists in the lab have used genetic modification techniques and directed evolution (where the yeast is exposed to certain conditions and becomes slowly more tolerant of them) to create a yeast capable of capturing carbon and producing animal feed with it. Other researchers in the team are working with another species of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae using similar techniques in order to make it produce large quantities of lactic acid in order to make PLA (3D printing plastic filament) which in its unadulterated form is rapidly biodegradable in composting.

Fermenting Futures is supported by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs (BMDW), the Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Motility, Innovation and Technology (BMK), the Styrian Business Promotion Agency SFG, the Standortagentur Tirol, Government of Lower Austria and Vienna Business Agency through the COMET-Funding Program managed by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency FFG. The funding agencies had no influence on the conduct of this work.

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