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Harnessing Microbes to Improve Our Cities

Some of the most impactful innovations of our generation are in the convergence of biology, materials and digital technologies. Living PlanIT Research & Development is embracing brave new frontiers realizing a future which is closer than many may think.


The Facts

Currently, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050. (United Nations)

The amount of urban waste being produced is growing faster than the rate of urbanization. Annual worldwide urban waste is estimated to more than triple, from 0.68 to 2.2 billion tonnes per year. (World Economic Forum)

The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world's annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/2010). (Food and Agriculture Organization)

The potential of municipal solid waste is being lost to landfills, with a huge cost to environment. Waste to energy provides only a fraction (0,4%) of the westernized world electricity. (International Energy Agency)

Today, many cities in the world still rely on outdated modes of planning notwithstanding that planning is central to achieving sustainable urban development. (United Nations)

Living PlanIT is on the case...

The costs of urbanization, carbon emissions and climate change continue to mount, and they will need to be addressed if our quality of life is to endure and improve. The Biological Systems team of PlanIT Labs is working to overcome these challenges by inventing and evolving new approaches to address the accelerating degradation of the environment.

PlanIT Labs projects are designed to exploit the PlanIT Urban Operating System™ (UOS) platform towards the proactive mitigation of growing economic, social and environmental problems.

One area of R&D which is exploring the “urban microbiome”, uses microorganisms and cutting edge biosensors at the center of lab engineered bioprocesses that allow innovative methods of wastewater treatment, waste to energy production, bioremediation of land and air, improvement of precision agriculture techniques and more.

Our Approach

Understanding and dissecting the complex structure of microbial communities, their composition, spatial distribution and dynamics in ecosystems is highly challenging considering the salient limitations of traditional or conventional laboratory techniques and this is where the UOS platform plays a key enabling role.

PlanIT Labs is moving beyond concepts that emulate processes in the natural world and are harnessing its potential. In nature, biological systems achieve harmonious economies of energy and materials. Our team is turning to nature for guidance, and integrating biology with the UOS to enhance the performance of ecosystems. Beyond current approaches based on growing structures with biomaterials, or integrating engineered cells with self-made bioreactors, we are using microbial communities as sensors, collecting data from them about their surrounding environment, and influencing their behavior for targeted outcomes, for example producing various forms of energy from household waste or cleaning wastewater.

Among the many constituents of natural systems, microorganisms are notable for their critical contributions to biogeochemical functions like decomposition and nutrient cycling. Microorganisms are essential for every part of human life on Earth as they are responsible for converting the key elements of life – carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur – into forms accessible to all other living things. Interestingly, the majority of the photosynthetic capacity of the planet does not depend on plants but on microbes. Microbial communities are intertwined with plants and animals for making necessary nutrients, metals, and vitamins available to their hosts. Many of these functions play important roles in the overall dynamics of urban systems. Identifying and understanding the dynamics of microbial communities in urban environments (or ‘urban microbiomes’) is essential for managing microorganisms, benefitting urban sustainability.

PlanIT Labs is also developing techniques of computer simulating artificial evolution so that we can use it to design functional ecosystems consisting of different forms of living technology. In other words we are creating artificial life, using living microorganisms as whole cell biosensors, and understanding complex chemical reaction networks to improve sensing and actuation of urban environments in real-time.

Integrating the aforementioned technologies with the UOS allows the identification of important gaps in knowledge and unanswered questions about urban microbiomes to develop a truly robust and predictive understanding of urban biology and ecology to be used for the planning and development of healthy and sustainable city systems.

Calling all technologists!

The composition and dynamics of urban microbiomes is an area that requires more exploration, but it is clear to PlanIT Labs that they can contribute to basic ‘services’ that improve urban life. It is also clear that a greater understanding of urban microbiomes is essential for delivering urban sustainability. Knowing more about our environment will allow us to plan better infrastructure to underpin and enhance our cities.

Leveraging the UOS to identify the status of urban microbiomes and to influence them in real-time will make a fundamental contribution to crucial areas of computing, engineering and synthetic biology industries. We are working aggressively, collaboratively and with determination across industry boundaries to usher in a new age of sustainable clean technology, and in doing so, furthering Living PlanIT’s vision of improving quality of life for people around the world.

The wicked problems of urbanization are intellectual, ethical, and regulatory in nature, and demand that we recognize the fragility of our natural environment and our responsibility to preserve it for future generations. Living PlanIT works with an extensive network of partners internationally, from government, industry and academia to find solutions.


About Living PlanIT

Living PlanIT is a technology company that created the world’s first Urban Operating System (UOS) which, in combination with the products it supports, unlocks the full potential of data to make cities better, safer and more vibrant places to live.

Living PlanIT has built an extensive partner network around the concept of a shared, unified approach to smart urban technology architecture in which machine intelligence moves ever closer to originating sources of data and control. We call this architecture PlanIT Edgeless Computing™ and it is implemented throughout the PlanIT Urban Operating System™, providing a framework for resilient and secure computer and systems architecture for digital and biological sensing, control, analytics, machine learning, applications and visualization techniques.

Most recently, Living PlanIT has received the 2015 Global Smart Infrastructure Platform Visionary Innovation Leadership Award from Frost & Sullivan. Living PlanIT contributes to the Clinton Global Initiative on Smart Cities and Infrastructure, is a member of the UK Government's Smart City Ministerial Forum and board member of the Cities Standards Institute. The company has received numerous awards including “Best Investment in High Tech in Europe” from the World Investment Conference, “Technology Pioneer Award” from the World Economic Forum, “Business Internalization Award” from UK Government Trade & Investment, “Growth Excellence and Leadership Award for Smart City Projects” from Frost & Sullivan and both “Best Company for Innovation in Urban Development Technologies” and “CEO of the Year” from IAIR in 2015.

www.living-planit.com or follow us on Twitter @Living_PlanIT