Jessica Green

Microbes tell us about our bodies, our buildings, what it means to be human.

TED Senior Fellow and Architectural Biologist

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Jessica Green | TED Senior Fellow and Architectural Biologist
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

How can we create sustainable cities and healthier buildings—including classrooms, hospitals, offices, and homes—by studying microbes? TED Senior Fellow Jessica Green explains how in visually rich talks that chart the frontier of bio-inspired design. She examines microorganisms to touch on deeper questions about humanity: What does it mean to be an individual? Where does your identity begin, and where does it end? 

Jessica Green is a world renowned scientist inspiring people to think about bacteria in entirely new ways. An Alec and Kay Keith Professor of Biology at the University of Oregon and professor at the Santa Fe Institute, Green is helping us see how the microbial blueprint of our bodies, homes, cities, and forests impacts our world, and our future. As co-founder and CTO of Phylagen, a DNA data harvesting and analytics company, Green envisions a future for urban design that promotes sustainability, human health, and well-being. 


Green is currently spearheading efforts to model urban spaces as complex ecosystems that house trillions of diverse microorganisms interacting with each other, with humans, and with their environment. She calls it the “built environment microbiome.” As founding director of the Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Center, she is working with architects and engineers to advance our understanding of how microbial communities assemble, interact, evolve, and influence public health. In addition, she is co-creating a graphic novel about the urban microbiome with graphic designer Steve Green and writer and TED Fellow Anita Doron.


Green is internationally recognized for highly cited publications in Nature, Science, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Her work has been featured in TIME, ABC, NBC, NPR, Forbes, Discover, Scientific American, and The Economist. She is the recipient of the Blaise Pascal International Research Chair, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, and a TED Senior Fellowship. She earned an M.S. in Civil/Environmental Engineering and Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering, both at the University of California, Berkeley.    

Speech Topics

Our Microbial Identity How Modern Science Is Redefining Health and the Self

Each of us carries a unique microbial signature: an unseen universe of microorganisms living in, on, and around us. Scientists call this the human microbial cloud, and these trillions of tiny creatures define who we are—essentially, and forensically. But we are only beginning to understand how our microbes interact with the people, buildings, and spaces around us. How do they make us healthier, more resilient, and more vibrant? How do they influence our moods, our longevities, our wellbeing, and our relationships?

In this visually stunning talk, Jessica Green explains how the DNA sequencing revolution has transformed our understandings of who we are. Drawing upon studies conducted with high-performing athletes, she shares how the people and products we touch, the food we eat, and the air we breathe all have important consequences for our public and private health. By studying the microbial world, we can better understand what we can (and can’t) change about our bodies, and our wellbeing. And with Green’s valuable insights, we’re offered a fascinating look at the rapidly changing future of microbiological medicine and technology.

Additionally, this keynote strikes at the heart of some of the most essential questions about human nature. What constitutes a human being, fundamentally? How do we define our place in the world? What does it mean to be an individual, unique in the universe? And where does personal identity begin and end? This is a very old but excitingly new frontier—and Jessica Green is our trusted guide.

Public Health
Building Wellness Creating Healthier Homes, Hospitals, and Offices with Microbiology

More than ever, we spend our lives indoors. Our apartments, offices, and hospitals keep us densely packed, surrounded by our neighbors and coworkers, breathing recycled air and making continual physical contact. Our sealed-off environments mean our lives are radically different from our ancestors, or even recent generations—but what does this mean on a microbial level? And what does this mean for our health and well-being as city populations continue to explode?

In this mind-opening keynote, Jessica Green explores how a deeper understanding of microbes can help us create healthier buildings (and thus enjoy healthier lives, in and outside of work). This means reimagining how we design structures, air flow, plant life, and communal spaces to control allergens, viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other microbial forces. As we spend money on weatherizing and air conditioning our homes, designing layouts in offices to stimulate creativity, and creating clinics and labs in sterile environments, we must also turn to leading scientists like Green to discover how the invisible world has a profound aspect on our daily lives.

This talk has major implications for architects, designers, and health care professionals interested in making better, healthier buildings. It also comes with important takeaways for business leaders and HR professionals. If we can improve indoor environmental quality, we can improve the health and productivity of our employees, making ‘building wellness’ not only a matter of science, but of economics and finance as well.

The Hidden City Landscape, Urban Design, and the Microbial Universe
As DNA sequencing research continues to break new ground, scientists are ever more aware of how our planet’s biochemical processes are ruled by microbes—both harmless species and those that make us sick. Understanding this unseen microbial ecology—a teeming web of trillions and trillions of organisms, on every surface, substance, creature, and in the air around us—has both micro and macro implications. In other words, new technology is changing how we care for individuals, but also how we design the megacities in which we live, work, and play.

Our unprecedented move to urban centers has caused a corresponding shift in the urban genome. The question is: can we engineer our cities to take advantage of these new discoveries? Can we create healthier, more sustainable cities by mapping the hidden dance of microbes in our midst? In this expansive keynote, Jessica Green helps urbanists, city planners, landscape architects, and health care workers create metropolises that take advantage of our new awareness of metagenomics. How does our proximity to green space and plant life, processing plants and freeways, sewage centers and subway lines, skyscrapers and animal life affect our health? And what can our city structures teach us about the prevention of disease: from both airborne pandemics to illnesses caused by the spread of antibiotic resistance?

Knowing our city’s microbial health is the next frontier of urban planning and architecture. For all those invested in the health, sustainability, and ecology of our urban environments, Jessica Green’s poignant talks are indispensable.