Biologists, engineers, designers, artists and social scientists have come together to explore how synthetic biology can be influenced by design.
Exploring synthetic biology and how it may be affected by design
The Design meets Synthetic Biology workshop – a guest blog by Anais Moisy and Larissa Pschetz
We, Anais Moisy and Larissa Pschetz, have been collaborating across Design Informatics and the Edinburgh Genome Foundry to explore how synthetic biology may affect and be influenced by design. On 12th July, we organised the Design meets Synthetic Biology workshop, where we invited biologists, engineers, designers, artists and social scientists to design domestic artefacts through the lenses of synthetic biology, also considering issues of representation, access and perception of this emerging field.
The full day workshop proposed a series of timed discussions, idea generation sessions and making exercises where participants designed, built and preformed concepts for biologically engineered knives, blankets and clocks. Outcomes included surgical knives that would help to heal open tissues, blankets that would comfort babies by excreting the smell of their mothers, trees that would grow mosquito repellent materials, deep-time clock-insects whose DNA would be altered to carry information into millions of years ahead, among others.
Participants were also invited to think about tools, models, and opportunities for collaborations at different stages of the process. This allowed them to identify several ‘black boxes’, or steps in which the necessary knowledge is inaccessible, either due to a gap in participants’ knowledge, or due to a lack of research around particular mechanisms.
Most importantly, participants were faced with the challenge of designing with life. Living materials invite reflection on a range of factors that are rarely approached in traditional industrial design processes: evolution over short and large scales of time, direct and nuanced ambient and environmental factors, the iterative relationship between humans and living things, as well as more transformative changes in the creation of growing materials are some examples. These factors have the potential to motivate designers to question traditional ways of carrying out and understanding their practice.
Together with Shi Hui Tan, we are currently considering how to include videos and a documentation of the workshop in our “Living with living things” exhibition, which will take place from 4th and 8th of August at the Edinburgh Art Festival and Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival.
The exhibition will present our own concepts for a biological knife, blanket and clock, which we have been growing over the last months. “Living with living things” will be part of “Living with Data: Design Informatics” hosted in the Pavilion commissioned by Pierre Forissier from Biomorphis Architects. We hope that this exhibition will also invite reflection on how our relationships with domestic artefacts may change with the integration of living materials.