Biodesign allows us to create products that have the potential to be applied today, while also exploring the potential of these products and systems in the future. By creating solutions which may seem speculative, we are able to see how we can push forward with these innovations and how we can become more sustainable. Manufacturing using nature is a key aspect of Biodesign. An example of this is Cinzia Ferrari’s project CyanoFabbrica, which aims to harness cyanobacteria’s intrinsic ability to biomineralize for the design of novel biofabrication strategies.


Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic, single-celled organisms that can be found in almost all habitats. Cyanobacteria undergo a process called biomineralization, this is a metabolic reaction where the absorption of Carbon Dioxide during photosynthesis causes changes in the chemical composition of the water surrounding the bacteria. The result of this process is mineral precipitation, and these minerals bond with sediments and polymers forming strong composites. The geological and ecological significance of cyanobacterial calcification is immense: there are examples of stromatolites which are known to be the world’s oldest known fossils, that are approximately 3.5 billion years old.  

Cinzia Ferrari was inspired by the research from the University of Colorado at Boulder (Heveran, C.M., et al., 2020, Biomineralization and successive regeneration of engineered living building materials, Matter, 2(2), pp.481-494). The project looked at creating bricks by inoculating a mineralizing cyanobacteria with a structural scaffold. But Ferrari developed her idea from this by working with three different cyanobacteria strains, exploring how the biomineralization could be used locally. 


The final outcome was partially dictated by the way this organism binds its substrate, and scaffolds were made from algae derived hydrogells and ground shells. The final product came in the form of the sunglasses inspired by patterns viewed during microscopic observations of the cyanobacteria strains. Every outcome was different, despite uniformity in the process. This is often the case when working with living systems and using natural materials. But Ferrari was able to create a strong, and aesthetically pleasing viable product, where the frames were made from a biomineralized material and phycocyanin cyanobacteria pigments were used for print.

This project aims to initiate new investigations and conversations around how to innovate the manufacturing sector. This type of fabrication shows promise for future production as it can offset its emissions, due to the bacteria being kept in constant growth allowing photosynthesis to happen. Also, at the end of their life, the sunglasses can be destroyed and used as a substrate for new products. Sunglasses were used as an example product for transparency of design  communications. Often not explored, the sunglasses sector contains lots of greenwashing. These products are also statement pieces and conversation starters. Ferrari also states that the market is expected to grow, due to increasing concerns against UV rays.


To further develop this biofabrication process and its potential, Ferrari identified the main future research topics:  

  • – Enhanced biomineral precipitation, through further understanding of the biochemical processes that promote calcification;  
  • – Optimization of carbon absorption during growth to offset production emissions and explore a carbon negative possibility;  
  • – Finding an alternative to the centrifuge, which currently consumes energy and makes the process less accessible;  
  • – The possibility of extruding the material with high precision­ – eliminating the need of moulds and hinges.  



Cinzia Ferrari



Dr. Paolo Bombelli, Postdoctoral Researcher from the department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge.

UCL, Imperial College, and the British Geological Survey. 

Central Saint Martins UAL.

Tutors: Nancy Diniz, Alice Taylor, Victoria Geaney, Shem Johnson, Julian Jirau, Carole Collet.

Co-Supervisor: Dr. Paolo Bombelli. Special thanks: Dr. Megan Barnett, Prof. Saul Purton, Freddie Elborne (MONC).