Designer Agi Haines not only uses biotech, she uses it on the human body. “I think we’re really malleable.” Her work touches upon the tension that splits the debate on human enhancement: should we try to improve our own biology? From a previous post you may remember Agi’s self-defibrillating heart, which shows how bioprinting may one day merge an eel’s electric organ with a human heart. As a speculative biodesigner, Agi confronts people with their unknown inside. But the world of science is not always open to that.
Do you know what mosquitoes and bees have in common? Let me tell you, their threat to biosecurity goes further than just a sting! In this short post you can read about what can go wrong if we do not manage the risks involved in modifying the animals in the world around us.
Already a high potential for the largest biology breakthrough of the year: the creation of a new synthetic lifeform called JCVI-syn3.0. Craig Venter, the Elon Musk of biotech, has developed the smallest genome in the world. Syn3.0 is a life form that consists of only 473 genes, which is about 50 less than its natural counterpart, and represents the bare minimum of requirements for an organism to live.
Our blog is a quest towards democratic biotechnology. But why is democracy of value in technological development? Should we even pollute labs with the ambivalent needs of citizens? It seems reasonable since what labs produce could pollute our lives. And there seem to be proper ways to mind the public. Let’s consider the perspective of two philosophers.
How to show the possible implications of synbio? Science fiction! Film has a long tradition of speculation. From Metropolis to The Matrix, from Star Wars to Her. Futuristic technologies become relatable with story and through visualization. Nowadays lots of visual trips into the future popup, both from fresh filmmakers and the field of design fiction. The science fiction short Blue-Eyed Me, shown above, explores some quite plausible commercial consequences of synbio.
“Science fiction is great for this, as it lets the story be both a metaphor for what’s going on today, and an extrapolation into the future.” – creator Alexey Marfin on Motherboard
So here it starts, my quest into biotechnology. Our project aims at mapping and understanding biotechnology and its development process (for more info: our introduction post, our about page). In my thread within this project the focus will lie on research and engineering. Our future is being shaped by decisions made in labs. Nature and technology have never been more linked than in the current development of biotechnology. Let’s dive into what makes biotechnology so revolutionary! What is it exactly?
All right, in our introductory post you could read why we want to know who shapes the technologies that we use every day. Especially since it seems that the rate of new technological developments which we adopt is increasing and literally every aspect of our live is influenced by them. But do you as a person have any control over the development of new technologies? In other words, is the development process of these technologies democratic? Take the Nanolab at the University of Twente, where research into biotechnology is being conducted. Do we as ordinary citizens influence anything about the lab-on-a-chip at all?
In this post I will try to take a look at how the research behind new technologies is funded. This is important to understand because decisions regarding money will likely have a big impact on how our technologies are developed. My starting point is to spend a few hours doing research on the internet. The information that I will find will be shared with you in this blog.
Design is the focus of my thread in the Biopolitics project. You might wonder what design has to do with technologies that may still take years to develop. Biotechnology is not something you would easily encounter in stores. What is there to design? Normally design comes after technological development. Only when the touchscreen was ready, the iPhone was designed. Only when LED lighting was ready, the portable flashlight was created. Right?
Things turn out to be more complicated. Consider the envisioned tablet from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or autonomous concept cars of today. When technology is not yet market-ready, design can guide the direction of development. With visions materialized in futuristic products, technicians are inspired and consumers are prepared.
This is happening with biotechnology as well. Designers are exploring the possibilities of designing life. Some speculative designers aim to ponder about the future through fictional products. Why? With the noble goal to make technology more democratic.
Technologies shape our lives, but who shapes them? The answer seems hidden behind laboratory doors. With emerging biotechnology in mind, such questions become pressing. In 10 years there will likely be bioengineered products in our homes. Who influences their development? And for whom are they actually developed? Why is research funded? Do citizens play a part?
This blog documents our journey to an answer. We are Duuk Baten, Erik van de Pieterman and Gijs de Boer, and we study the relation between research labs, design studios and the world outside. The upcoming three months we will shed light on the politics behind synthetic biology.