How will we secure fresh water?

Combining biomimicry and synthetic biology to build giant floating jellyfish desalination plants.

Global demand for fresh water could be 40% greater than supply by 2030. With a rising global population and increasing challenges to water management, we will face severe water scarcity unless we find new ways of creating fresh water for food and industry. The first section of the exhibition imagines a future where the UAE has developed new solutions to water scarcity.

Bio–desalination Plant

The first stop on our tour our newest bio-desalination plant, a living factory that provides fresh, clean drinking water through natural means.

Bio–desalination Plant

The first stop on our tour our newest bio-desalination plant, a living factory that provides fresh, clean drinking water through natural means.

Nature’s Blueprints

By combining the genes of a jellyfish – nature’s most absorptive natural material – with mangrove roots: one of nature’s best desalinators, we could create giant living freshwater desalination plans.

Nature’s Blueprints

By combining the genes of a jellyfish – nature’s most absorptive natural material – with mangrove roots: one of nature’s best desalinators, we could create giant living freshwater desalination plans.

Filtering the Purest Drinking Water

Now we can grow enormous living factories that filter clean water for a whole city. These provide drinking water for people and crops, as well as clean the oceans around them. Jellyfish bio-desalination plants could also be exported to cities across the world, making fresh water accessible to everyone through genetics and biomimicry.

Filtering the Purest Drinking Water

Now we can grow enormous living factories that filter clean water for a whole city. These provide drinking water for people and crops, as well as clean the oceans around them. Jellyfish bio-desalination plants could also be exported to cities across the world, making fresh water accessible to everyone through genetics and biomimicry.

Research behind the exhibit

Most water in the UAE already comes from desalinated seawater. Today’s methods are energy-intensive, requiring the energy to power one jumbo jet to produce water for 300,000 people.

Organic materials could provide another option later this century. Already, techniques for biomimicry – learning from nature – play a role in car design, architecture and TV screens. Systems that mimic nature are engineered at an ever smaller scale: down to the mechanics of living cells. Genetic sequencing is now available as consumer services, while techniques for manipulating genetic material are improving quickly.

These are strong signals of nascent industry, where in the future a combination of genetics and biomimicry become methods for mass production. By 2050, there could be a strong global economy that makes the most of the new biology for the 21st century: one that solves ecosystem challenges when combined with the latest developments in physics, engineering and environmental science.

The freshwater plant in the exhibit explores a future where many aspects of our industries are biological. It shows how we could combine jellyfish genes with mangrove roots to create a brand new, living fresh water factory.

Why Jellyfish? Jellyfish tissue is one of nature’s most absorptive materials. Jellyfish mucus can absorb nanoparticle contamination like heavy metals and chemicals from sunscreen. Jellyfish skin is thin enough for them to absorb oxygen through it rather than by having a mouth and lungs. The skin has been reused to make nappies and kitchen towel.

Mangrove trees are also one of nature’s best desalinators, drawing water from the sea and removing the salt. The grey mangrove has special glands for secreting excess salt and collecting it on the underside of its leaves.

By combining the genes of both jellyfish and mangrove roots, then scaling it up to industrial proportions, we could create a giant, natural freshwater desalination plant.

These living factories would have other benefits as well. Mangrove genes are used for chlorophyll production, turning sunlight into energy. The salt produced by the leaves would be collected in special catchment areas at the surface, then converted into highly efficient next generation salt batteries.

The factory would create its own ecosystem. Jellyfish eat small fish, producing large amounts of waste mucus that cleans the seawater. It also provides nutrients for algae growing on the ocean floor. The algae is harvested and sold in supermarkets, as well as feeding fish.

New UAE technology companies could sell these genetic and robotic techniques to other nations. The UAE would become a centre of expert knowledge and manufacturing for freshwater plants that can respond to different local conditions around the world.

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