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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can form lasting symbiotic relationships, an exploration into what is possible when unlike disciplines live together, new knowledge and new technology emerging at the intersection of multiple fields. At the heart of synthetic biology is the often-uneasy relationship between biology and engineering, pursuing an understanding of life as it has evolved and life as it could be designed. These “two cultures,” however, find themselves on the same side of the deeper rift between the arts and sciences,

bodies such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) or the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Prior to this, standards were taken up in a more ad hoc manner. For example, the measurement of the power output of an engine is still widely given in horsepower, a historical anomaly. In the late eighteenth century, Scottish engineer James Watt had a problem. To make money from his efficient new steam engine, he had come up with the idea of taking royalties of one third of the

MIT, studying electrical engineering and computer science. His research at UCSF focuses on using synthetic biology to understand the design principles of biological circuits, which underlie fundamental cellular behaviors like cell replication, memory formation, and tissue development. This includes building tools to engineer one circuit mechanism, based on protein phosphorylation, and studying cellular behaviors that arise from combinations of this and other circuit types. Ionat Zurr is an

establish the simplest built system that displays life-like behavior; such endeavors are discussed in chapter 15. As attempts to build life “bottom-up” progress in parallel with efforts to simplify organisms “top-down,” there is some future where these efforts meet in the middle: Which then would be more natural, the simplified organism or the constructed? But How Might Biology Change Engineering? Engineers are beginning to understand how to design and make using biology as a material. Is

infected with a phage can produce hundreds to thousands of progeny virus particles, often starting within just a few minutes of infection. For example, the photosynthetic microbes that exist in the surface waters of Earth’s oceans are preyed upon by bacteriophages to such an extent that marine microbiologists now estimate2 that there are 10 billion bacteriophage particles per liter of ocean surface water (figure 4.1). Think about that the next time you go for a swim. Perhaps because phage

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