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Synthetic Biology features in the new window display at the headquarters of the Wellcome Trust at 215 Euston Road, London.
The display features six different projects created by students, graduates and staff from the Design Interactions department at the Royal College of Art, each offering an alternative view of how science could influence our future. The purpose is not to offer predictions, but to inspire debate about the human consequences of different technological futures, both positive and negative, by asking 'What If…?'
Curated by leading London based design duo Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, 'What If...?' features a range of works by designers who have explored everything from clouds engineered to 'snow' ice cream, through to the social consequences of machines that could read your every emotion - and includes displays exploring the theme of Synthetic Biology by Daisy Ginsberg, James King and Michael Burton.
What if...bacteria recoloured our world?
E. chromi: James King and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, 2009
For the 2009 International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM), seven Cambridge University undergraduates modified E. coli to secrete coloured pigments. These bacteria, which were named 'E. chromi', have many potential uses, including biosensors to test for pollutants in drinking water. How might the use of bacteria to produce pigments develop? What are the broader implications? The timeline considers products we might buy that use 'E. chromi', people whose livelihood might depend on it, and laws that might be needed to regulate it.
What if...we accept co-evolution with bacteria, microbes and parasites as a healthy option?
The Race: Michael Burton, 2007
For every human cell in the body there are ten nonhuman cells - bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes - living inside and on you. They are vital to many of your daily functions. 'The Race' responds to this and to human meta-genomic research to reconsider our approach to healthcare as a co-evolved organism and conglomeration of vital bacteria, microbes and parasites. The project scrutinises our inadvertent assistance of super-bugs like MRSA through the overuse of antibiotics. Instead it offers alternative enhancements, new behaviours and objects for a more symbiotic future.
What if...everyday products contained synthetically produced living components?
The Synthetic Kingdom: A natural history of the synthetic future: Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, 2009
How will we classify what is natural or unnatural when life is built from scratch? Synthetic biology is turning to the living kingdoms for its materials library. No more petrochemicals: instead, pick a feature from an existing organism, locate its DNA and insert into a biological chassis. Engineered life will compute, produce energy, clean up pollution, kill pathogens and even do the housework. Meanwhile, we add an extra branch to the Tree of Life. 'The Synthetic Kingdom' is part of our new nature. Biotech promises us control over nature, but living machines need controlling. Are promises of sustainability and healthiness seductive enough to accept such compromise?
Senior Curator at the Wellcome Trust, James Peto said: "It's great that there will be so much change built into the designs for the Euston Road windows this year. By next Christmas 'What If...?' will have showcased projects by 15 different students, graduates and staff from the Design Interactions course. The windows offer a great platform for asking some gently provocative questions about humanity's relationship with technology. We estimate that around 5000 people pass by them every day, on foot alone."The display will be refreshed with new designs throughout the year with the first instalment unveiled on Thursday 4 February.