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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Synthetic biology

For my very first class of Citizen science: Biotechnology we had to blindly pick chits from a randomized pool of topics which would be our subject of research for this course. I picked synthetic biology, or rather it picked me!

After spending an entire day watching simplified Youtube videos and reading popular science articles on synthetic biology, I can finally claim to have gotten my head around the subject and some of the jargon necessary to understand and communicate it. I feel I am now equipped to take on more serious literature and scientific papers.

Any discussion around synthetic biology and/or genetic engineering seldom takes place without touching upon ethics and necessary regulations around the technology and of course “designer babies!”. I am more interested in speculating on parallel applications of this technology than to really have an opinion on it’s ethics and practical concerns. After all the motivation behind synthetic biology is ethically positive, at least in the realm of therapeutics and nourishment rather than enhancement! The reality is that there are certain urgencies which are far more grave than the unclear ecological implications and potential risks with this technology. It is tempting to attack these urgencies with a piece of tech that shows promise than to fully think through its implications. But is it even possible to fully think through its implications without implementing it? Who would have imagined the internet when the first transistor was engineered?!

I am also pondering over how this technology could reflect in design and in-turn in our day to day life of using products. If we circumvent all the sensational “hot topics” around this technology and imagine a regular day in future, maybe 70 years from now, where synthetic biology is mainstream and has already proven to be immensely successful in treating several diseases; A future where men never go bald and everyone on the planet has enough food, what would our mundane day-to-day life look like? If biotech creates a market for new materials then how would it impact manufacturing and advertising and how will these new methods affect the way our everyday products look and function. What would our toothbrush look like? or the humble bar of soap? what kind of underwear will we be wearing? how would we redesign kitchen tools to work with new forms of food? how will it alter some of our everyday rituals like skin care and hygiene or using contraception?

These may not be very glamorous topics to discuss but certainly very important. The mundane everyday life is the grand reality for most of us and is directly related to a person’s sense of well-being. I may explore more along this track through the semester.