Headshot of Dr. Elizabeth Henaff

Holobiont Urbanism: Towards Metrics for Smart Cities that Span Scales and Species

Abstract: In the era of computational genomics, a great deal of progress has been made in determining the relationships between genetic information and the development of multicellular organisms: plants, animals, humans. But what’s become increasingly clear is that all these organisms owe meaningful aspects of their development and phenotype to interactions with the microorganisms – bacteria or fungi – with which they live in symbiosis.

Those microbes are an integral part of, and are affected by, our environment. As such, the microbiome – whether it lives on the skin, gut, subway, office – manifests the continuum between organism and environment. With its potential to elucidate the relationship between the environment and human health, it is arguably the most urgent metric in the era of smart cities. Here we present methods and metrics for data-driven discussions of our holobiont built environments.

Headshot of Dr. Elizabeth Henaff

Dr. Elizabeth Hénaff is a computational biologist and designer. Her academic trajectory started with a Bachelors in Computer Science, followed by a Master’s in Plant Biology (both from UT Austin) and a PhD in Bioinformatics from the University of Barcelona.

At the center of her research is a fascination with the way living beings interact with their environment. This inquiry has produced a body of work that ranges from scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals, to projects with landscape architects, to working as an artist in environments from SVA to the MIT Media Lab.

She has made contributions to understanding how plants respond to the force of gravity, how genome structure changes in response to stress, and most recently has turned her attention to the ubiquitous and invisible microbial component of our environment. Some recent highlights include the design for the bioremediation of a local toxic Superfund site which won a design competition, had a gallery exhibit, and a scientific publication. Her work with the MIT Media Lab led to the development of a novel approach to urban microbiome sampling using honeybees, an exhibit at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, and a curriculum for international workshops.

She has consistently makes the tools – software, wetware, hardware – needed to answer her research questions.

She currently holds an Assistant Professor position in the Integrated Digital Media department at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering in New York City, where she teaches courses in biodesign.