Members, Bentobio, creators of the laptop size biolab, hosted a group of artists, designers and scientists to come together at Makerversity for the inaugural co-lab workshop. Run by Open Science School, this workshop was focused on developing interdisciplinary working methods around the topic of synthetic biology, a novel form of bioengineering.
During three days, the participants learned essential skills such as molecular biology techniques and bioinformatics, as well as from the world of speculative design. Scientists were encouraged to learn about artistic approaches and value design thinking, designers and artists learned about the possibilities of biological materials and synthetic biology.
From the co-lab manifesto:
“The goal of the project is to foster the creation of truly interdisciplinary projects around synthetic biology.
Interdisciplinary is a tool to to solve complex problems that are beyond the reach of any discipline alone. To be able to do this, many soft-skills need to be developed. However, we believe that they are central to face the challenges of this emerging new world: conceptualisation, intercultural communication, project-based learning, adaptation, and willingness to learn.”
On the first day, participants were introduced to the science of synthetic biology through a hands-on laboratory crash course. Participants also looked at bioinformatics methods to analyse protein structures. Then, on the following two days participants formed small interdisciplinary teams to pursue a particular research project which they presented on the last day.
Bacterial Dialogues (Amanda, Victoria, and Shamal)
Bacterial Dialogues aims to foster and enhance the dialogue between humanity and our unseen microbial communities. Being surrounded by invisible and unused sources of energy, we imagined how to visualise soundscapes through bacteria which responded to different frequencies. These ‘bacterial canvasses’ would visually respond to atmospheric sounds and function both as moving and living usual art pieces, as well as an audio-visual diagnostic tool for their environments.
The scientific background of the project was based on ‘Plant gene responded to frequency-specific sound signals’ and ‘Production of sound-waves by bacterial cells and the response of bacterial cells to sound’.
Life on the Surface (Debbie, Lena, Michael, and Tiphane)
This project focused on the visualisation of invisible information in the environment.
We plan to utilise promoters to make bacterias react to changes in the environment such as pH and temperature. We plan to utilise bacteria in street lights, graffitis and fireworks. We aim to visualise data that are usually represented through numbers and try to figure out a way to utilise the bacteria to reveal invisible data in our environment. In this way people can create an alternative perception of the conditions found in the environment they live in.
The scientific background of the project was based on ‘A Synthetic Genetic Edge Detection Program’ and the 2009 Cambridge iGEM team.
Colon ( : ) – Common Bacterial Depository (by Anuradha, Nils and Paloma)
Synthetic Biology has discovered a way to repurpose the micro biome through bacterial strains that affect people’s mood, behaviour and cognition. This has inspired us to think of how the micro biome could be leveraged to go beyond individual behaviours, and instead look into ways in which it might be appropriated by communities that share common practices. Shared housing, for instance, provides an interesting scenario when new participants joining have to agree / consent to follow the community rules.
The team explored scenarios such as eating vegetarian food, going to sleep at certain times and keeping the house dust-free and how these can be facilitated by a house-share-specific microbe community.
Bio-Shower (Juanma, Rose, Sonia and Xavier)
The bio shower was inspired by the idea of repurposing of house indoor spaces for (synthetic) microbial community hosting. In specific by harnessing the specific climate traits the shower offers, such as humidity, dampness, and cyclic warmth.
The team explored how bacteria existing in the shower environment could be harvested. Added to that, they found a paper on the biofilms existing in the shower curtains and further discussed the potential to engineer or study them.
Writing from Philipp Boeing of Bentobio.