Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology's Designs on Nature (MIT Press)

Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology's Designs on Nature (MIT Press)

Pablo Schyfter

Language: English

Pages: 376

ISBN: 026201999X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Synthetic biology manipulates the stuff of life. For synthetic biologists, living matter is programmable material. In search of carbon-neutral fuels, sustainable manufacturing techniques, and innovative drugs, these researchers aim to redesign existing organisms and even construct completely novel biological entities. Some synthetic biologists see themselves as designers, inventing new products and applications. But if biology is viewed as a malleable, engineerable, designable medium, what is the role of design and how will its values apply?

In this book, synthetic biologists, artists, designers, and social scientists investigate synthetic biology and design. After chapters that introduce the science and set the terms of the discussion, the book follows six boundary-crossing collaborations between artists and designers and synthetic biologists from around the world, helping us understand what it might mean to 'design nature.' These collaborations have resulted in biological computers that calculate form; speculative packaging that builds its own contents; algae that feeds on circuit boards; and a sampling of human cheeses. They raise intriguing questions about the scientific process, the delegation of creativity, our relationship to designed matter, and, the importance of critical engagement. Should these projects be considered art, design, synthetic biology, or something else altogether?

Synthetic biology is driven by its potential; some of these projects are fictions, beyond the current capabilities of the technology. Yet even as fictions, they help illuminate, question, and even shape the future of the field.

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microbiological techniques. Figure 17.4 Christina, left, and Sissel preparing to make cheese from human bacteria. Figure 17.5 The cheese-making process starts once the human bacteria samples have been added. The body-part bacterial samples were used to make individual cheeses. Figure 17.6 The curds of the “human cheese,” strained after culturing. Figure 17.7 The final selection of human body cheese: “Daisy Armpit,” “Philosopher Toe,” “Christina Hand,” and “Sissel Nose.” Each

information storage system, a DNA molecule must be able to replace any one base with another without having the entire DNA molecule change its chemical function. It is very strange for a molecule to not change its properties when you start moving atoms around. For example, water (H2O) becomes hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) just by adding a single oxygen atom. How can DNA exchange many atoms at a time (one base for another) yet maintain its overall properties? Returning to the work of Benner and others

information storage system, a DNA molecule must be able to replace any one base with another without having the entire DNA molecule change its chemical function. It is very strange for a molecule to not change its properties when you start moving atoms around. For example, water (H2O) becomes hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) just by adding a single oxygen atom. How can DNA exchange many atoms at a time (one base for another) yet maintain its overall properties? Returning to the work of Benner and others

new ways of working. The residencies raise a host of challenging questions. There are questions about scale and form, such as: can design tools move across scales, from the biological scale of micrometers to the architectural scale of meters (chapter 7; David Benjamin and Fernan Federici)? How can synthetic biological designs be represented in sound and music (chapter 13; Chris Chafe and Mariana Leguia)? And what are the limitations of the abstraction that is required for design in synthetic

postulate what the final form of the cells would be: How would the cells grow if they followed the logic of human-built structures? When the two were compared, the efficacy of the computer model in predicting the cells’ behavior could be determined. In the most straightforward terms, these experiments allowed Fernan and David to improve the quality of their computational tools gradually. More importantly, these experiments made evident some unique ways in which biology arrives at solutions to its

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