Synthetic biology_3

For the third class we did a quick mind mapping exercise to come up with directions for the final project.

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I’m happy with some of the directions that I got. The top four –

1. BioChips
As a speculative design exploration, I’m trying to ask if we can engineer integrated bacterial circuits. What if a piece of DNA was exposed to conditions that will make it randomly mutate every time it tries to repair itself? Could such a setup be used to make a true random number generator? can we design a transistor with engineered bacteria which responds differently to voltage? What would biological versions of common electronic/electrical components look like?

2. Designer baby vs prolonged death
Genetically enhanced humans is a topic that often comes up when discussing bio technology. I can’t decide which is more grave, designer babies or its evil twin, prolonged death. I am more terrified of the latter. Through this speculative exercise I wanna try and answer questions like what is the optimum age to die? And in that case, what is the most pleasant way to die if death is far removed from natural biological processes? What kind of products and services will evolve around it? how will it change our mourning rituals?

3. Scavenger DNA
Can we engineer our DNA or gut bacteria to help us digest plastic?

4. Embodied brand experience
Smell is often regarded as a powerful branding tool. It creates a more enriched and memorable experience which helps in brand recall. But what if the future of branding lies in engineered bacteria? The gut-brain-axis is a well researched and proven subject concerning a link between gut microbiota and the brain/mood. Could environmental microbiome be engineered to deliver a specific brand experience? Do businesses have the right to invade our body and mind to get us hooked? Where do we draw the line?

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BioDesign worksop

Chris Woebken held a Bio-Design workshop in class. It was a speculative design exercise aiming to visualize bio futures through tangible media. The idea was to gather simple products or materials from a dollar shop and re-purpose them to create and communicate new meaning and ideas. Everyone brought in at least 10 items each.

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Full spread of random dollar store items brought in by the classmates. Chris brought along some vacuum formed package shells and different stickers. There were also some random magazine cut outs of a range of news articles.

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We were to imagine a hypothetical topic related to our research paper. My selected topic is Gut-microbiome and its effect on the brain. 

So I imagined a future scenario where our world is getting increasingly sterile. We live in air quality controlled clean rooms. So are our offices and cars and movie theaters, everything is perfectly clean. Fruits and vegetables do not grow in soil anymore. Most of our food is grown in labs from cell cultures. There is very little of real, organic matter around. And the lack of helpful bacteria has drained our vitality and spirit.
We survive on constant entertainment and media consumption rather than engaging with the real world and seeking pleasure and fulfillment. Celebrity worship is rampant in a society like this which feeds on entertainment media.

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In order to prolong their celebrity stature and physical and mental vitality, only celebrities have access to bio-engineered, probiotics and healthy bacteria. this has given rise to microbial piracy! Microbiome pirates are paparazzi of the future world, who are not only on the lookout for candid  photographs of famous celebrities but also their gut bacteria! This celebrity gut bacteria is sold on the underground market like drugs.

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This is quick prototype to sketch out this future scenario by imagining a product, in this case, Jenn Aniston’s gut bacteria sold in form of balls and labeled as artisanal mood enhancer! $66

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This is the device used to extract the microbiome!

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Speculative bio-mimetic architecture

After watching BBC’s Planet earth, over and over, with the same amount of amazement and excitement as seeing it for the first time, it is really hard to pick a single favorite organism to write about. Our planet seems like an bustling inter-galactic rave with strange creatures, much bizarre than Burning man! Each on their own trip, donning trippy costumes and displaying bizarre antics!

But for the sake of this assignment, I will pick the Australian thorny devil!

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This menacing creature!

It’s called the thorny devil for a reason! But as menacing as this being may appear, it’s actually quite tiny and feeds on ants alone.  It sits and waits near ant colonies or ant trails, and with it’s sticky tongue, sucks up poor ants religiously going about their daily routine, one by one, much like a gripper atop a conveyor belt on an assembly line. It can consume thousands of ants in a day!

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Not so devilish after all!

This creature has a variety of tricks up its sleeve to ward off predators and survive in the hellish, arid Australian desert. From inflating its lungs to bulk up in physique to having a false head on its back to changing its color. But the one I find most interesting is that it is hygroscopic (moisture attracting) which means that it can drink water through its feet! The spikes and tiny grooves spread all over its body, concentrate dew and channelize it toward its mouth through capillary action. Watch the video below if you don’t believe me. (3:30 – 4:30, if you are in a hurry)

It’s a fascinating survival mechanism! Wasting energy in the desert can come at a significant cost, so the devil has evolved ways to eat and drink with minimum wastage of energy.

I can imagine a possible method of constructing frugal temporary shelters in a similar fashion. Much like how stalagmites are formed! But instead of solid columns being printed by dripping calcified water from top, my (hypothetical) process employs capillary action to suck up calcified water (or some such engineered liquid) against gravity to construct columns for a small shelter. Such a process would need minimum manpower and harnesses simple physics to automate the construction process, enabling multiple shelters to be constructed parallely. The entire process would look a bit like the time lapse below. But instead of just one column, you would need at least 3 of these to construct a viable house.

The task flow of this process would be –
1. To have a bed of calcified water or engineered liquid, about as big as you’d want the footprint of the house to be.
2. Place starter bricks which initiate the capillary action in a vertical direction.
3. The liquid will suck up to the surface of the brick and harden as it rises.
4. Starter bricks come in a variety of shapes, much like piping joints. Y, T and L would be the most desirable choices. Place these shaped bricks on top of a column to channelize it in different directions.
5. Once the skeleton is ready, clad it with appropriate sheets or even construct entire walls with the same method.