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7 Synthetic Biology Projects Breathing Life into Science

If you go down to the lab today, be sure of a big surprise.

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg's Rewilding with Synthetic Biology. Images courtesy of the designer

Cheese made from human DNA? Mice with Elvis Presley's genes? Welcome to the world of synthetic biology and biotechnology. These are exciting times in the design world; groundbreaking science has resulted in groundbreaking design. Technological advances in understanding tissue, bacteria, and genetic modification allow us to morph mortal material into objects that were once restricted to the realm of fantasy.


The rise of synthetic biology has resulted in the application of engineering principles to the living specimen, creating a range of synthetic materials and ‘living' machines. Due to this recent phenomenon, more artists than ever are diving into the lab to get creative and developing concepts which range from the awe inspiring to the downright gruesome. The fascination with our own mortality and the physical world is not a new concept; throughout history humans have been interested in gods, heroes, folklore, and the supernatural which, in turn, has shaped our imaginations and our increased our desires for superior forms and diversified environments.

Here are some projects changing the boundaries of science and design. Although many are concepts, they’re shaping future designs and are creative mechanisms designed to tackle a range of issues, from environmental conservational concerns, to medical ethics.

Michael Burton & Michiko Nitta’s Algaculture

Image courtesy the designers

This project imagines a world where human functions are supplemented with algae, allowing us to be semi-photosynthetic; gaining energy from light. With our new photosynthesizing organs we’d be part-human, part-plant. Click here to read more about the project.

Koby Barhad’s All That I Am

Images courtesy of Science Museum, Trinity College Dublin

This project uses genetic information from hair samples belonging to the King of rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley. Using this information, mice are tailored to have genetic characteristics of his, creating Elvis Presley Mice. But can animals really simulate human life? Would we feel differently if our pets had our genetic traits?


To read more about Barhad’s project, click here.

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, James King, and the University of Cambridge iGEM 2009 team’s E. Chromi

One part of the E. Chromi project proses a probiotic drink with genetically engineered bacteria designed to secrete a variety of coloured pigments in your poo depending on the biology of your gut; a creative way means of self-determining diseases.

You can find more about the project, including the book Synthetic Aestheticshere.

Agapakis & Tolaas’ Grow Your Own Cheese,

Image courtesy of Science Museum, Trinity College Dublin

A cheese unique to just you? Here, cheese is made from an individual’s body bacteria, reflecting the individual’s distinctive microbial landscape. This project makes us question our fears of using human products for create produce; but is our own bacteria really something to be feared? It’s also a great way of making sure nobody steals your food at Uni.

Click here to read more about this project.

Michiko Nitta’s Body Modification for Love

This project proposes genetically a growing loved one’s body parts upon your skin—a whole new way of tattooing. Can you imagine having your boyfriend’s nipple on your wrist or your girlfriend’s lonely mole on the back of your neck? It's not for the faint-hearted, nor the non-committal.

Click here to read more about Nitta's work.

Susana Soares’ Genetic Trace

Image courtesy the designer

Could enhancing our features make for an easier dating life? Susana’s project envisages modifying cilia cells in the fingernails and growing whiskers upon eyebrows to collect other’s genetic information in order to aid social communication.


In a world where we are all so busy, could these enhancements be a more effective form of communication? Check out more of Soares' work here.

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s Designing for the Sixth Extinction

Mobile Bioremediation Unit. Image courtesy of the designer

This project proposes the creation of synthetic organisms as ‘ecological machines’ predetermined to support ongoing species, treat diseases and reduce the impact of pollution in order to preserve and protect our current environment. Ultimately the goal is to reduce the impact of the ongoing 'sixth extinction.'

Click here to learn more about the project:


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