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you are what you make science, design and the human body at the intersection of biotechnology

a dissertation written by marisa naruko bennett jensen in requirement for completion of ba design goldsmiths college, university of london january 2014

You Are What You Make:


Science, Design and the Human Body at the Intersection of Biotechnology

A dissertation written by: Marisa Naruko Bennett Jensen

In requirement for completion of BA Design Goldsmiths College, University of London January 2014

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An Analysis of Definitions

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Additional Reading

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A Personal Reflection On BioDesign

The Rogue Side of Doing Biology

Genetic Gold or Garbage Tissue?

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BioPunks

BioCommerce

Conclusion

References

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Introduction

Science-Design, Design-Science

Motives and Metaphors

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Introduction

What is the value of the skin, hair and other cells on your body? Its likely you barely consider these biological traces you leave everywhere, as you shed and grow fresh ones every day. What if a team of scientists were to collect these cells for biomedical research, or use them for genetic engineering experiments or biological profiling would you care what happened to them then? Its hard to imagine why one would want to meticulously collect every clipped fingernail, every hairball from the shower, every sleepy drop of drool and squirrel them away, yet that is exactly what Ive been doing for the last few months. Armed with little scientific knowledge but abundant curiosity for the makeup of my body parts, I have embarked on a self-exploratory journey, evocative of the grooming rituals performed by Vincent Freeman in the genetically discriminatory world of Gattaca. In reality, the business of bodies is booming: DNA extracted from human tissue can reveal powerful information about disease therapy and genetic ancestry lines, and medical scientists are in fraught competition to own this information. Nationwide DNA banks and tissue collection protocols are cropping up all over the world [GeneWatch, 2013], because governments know there is money to be made, and power to be gained, in the trafficking of human tissue. Alongside this, the onslaught of biotechnology and genetic engineering have permeated many areas of current popular culture, inspiring wild fantasies of future worlds transformed by synthetically tailored life forms. Where these practices were once the stuff of sci-fi novels, they are now the focal point of contemporary predictions of the future. BioPunks, a growing community of untrained scientists dabbling in bioengineering, are already tinkering with the very 56

fabric of life in their garages without authorisation or proper equipment. Bio-design and bio-art are making appearances at established global museums, with work ranging from speculative ideas to fully realized creations. So how does design vie with science into this bioobsessive new world? Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg of Synthetic Aesthetics, a collaborative group that is focused on the future of synthetic biology, defines design as the transmission of ideas through things the translator of new technologies into the mass of stuff that surrounds and mugs our everyday lives [PopTech, 2013]. If this is true, designers must remain at the forefront of synthesising these emergent ideas into understandable and relatable forms. Yet as the progress of technology continues to accelerate, and the pace of digital communication keeps cultural perspectives in constant flux, maintaining a relevancy and urgency in design work can be challenging. While it would seem natural that designers collaborate with scientists to remain abreast of this momentum, an analysis of Nigel Cross theoretical science-design definitions and a University of Cambridge study both reveal specific obstacles and conflicts that can confuse the process. I will therefore attempt to investigate alternative types of science-design combinations that may be more beneficial to both parties in the context of bio-design. It might help to reflect on a time when creative and scientific domains were not as explicitly separate as they seem to be today. In the 17th Century and leading up to the Industrial Revolution, biologists and artists worked intimately together as a hybrid of two disciplines. The Pre-Raphaelite artists in their 1850 periodical The Germ praised science in 56

Introduction

its precise search for the truth and consequently painted scientists like Newton and Hippocrates not within their laboratory settings but in scenes of artistic inspiration and thinking [Estrin, 2011]. Ernst Haeckels depictions of nature as a machine illustrate the equal parts scientific precision and abstract creativity required for encapsulating complex biological systems and structures. The founding members of the Royal Society in London were both practicing architects and leading scientists [Myers, 2012], exploiting different ways of knowing in both science and art. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, however, the meaning of design has moved beyond mere aesthetic representation and become more intimately involved with function, efficiency, user experience and innovation. Nigel Cross likens contemporary designers to experts in the artificial world [Cross, 2000:54]. If the profession of a designer is thus to Introduction add or alter elements of this artificial world, what does it mean to design with living things? Where are the boundaries between the artificial and the natural when an organism is manipulated or synthetically created? Biotechnology continues to creep into the mainstream, and we cannot continue to think of design as sitting purely in the artificial domain. As global needs shift towards softer and more sustainable methods of production and consumption, designers must too shift their focus towards these ends. The implications of designing life are vast: introducing living organisms as a medium to make with suggests new sets of responsibilities concerning production, maintenance and disposal that may not have been previously considered. And when it comes to designing with the matter of our own bodies, whether its with tissue or with genes, those implications run even deeper. Cross contends the current ways of knowing in design come from two avenues: the first through copying and

borrowing knowledge from existing artefacts, and the second through manufacturing and reflecting on new artefacts [Cross, 2000].The step forward for design to familiarise itself with the life sciences, and remain a culturally relevant stakeholder in the development and application of biotechnology, must then surely be through these same levels of interaction inside the laboratory, or through an efficiently mediated collaboration. However, its important to recognise the boundaries between design and science: collaboration does not mean they become inseparable, and the benefits and disadvantages must be equally recognised.

Faber Futures is a collection of textiles which are screen printed with dyes made by genetically manipulated bacteria. This collaboration is a work in progress by textiles designer Natsai Chieza and The Ward Lab of University College London.

Photos: thisisalive.com/faber-futures/ En Vie/Alive, Espace Fondation EDF, Paris April September 2013

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In my research I have spoken with certified medical biologists, do-it-yourself BioPunks and those in between, and while they all comment on different degrees of science-design overlap, its only in personal attempts at scientific investigation that my own designerly ways of knowing [Cross, 2000] reveal themselves. A lack of scientific expertise led me to make intuitive decisions that were focused partly on scientific accuracy and partly on design opportunity, steered for the most part by suspicion. My attitudes toward my own bodily materials Introduction influenced my willingness to work with elements particularly high yuck factors, or yielded no apparent scientific value but stoked my design curiosity. These factors are undoubtedly entangled with the inherent or tacit knowledge discussed in Chris Rusts Design Enquiry: Tacit Knowledge and Invention in Science [Rust, 2003:3]. Thus we see a third contender in science-design collaborations that plays an obvious but crucial role : the unique set of knowledge that is specific to each individual, regardless of profession and instead dependent on emotional, cultural and experiential factors.
Daisy Ginsberg is part of Synthetic Aesthetics, a collaborative group that focuses on how synthetic biology may implicate science and design roles, our relationships with our products and services, and new ideas about their production, maintenance and disposal. The majority of her current work is design fiction, although she has also collaborated on projects that directly engage with lab biology. Photos: Authors own Bunny Smash, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo December 2013 Growth Assembly (left) A series of synthetically created plants that grow the parts to make up a fertiliser pump E. Chromi (above) An engineered bacteria that signals the presence of harmful pathogens inside the digestive tract by changing colors

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that entailed painstaking collection methods, had

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Science-Design, Design-Science
An Analysis of Definitions

In order to pinpoint the intersection of science and design, it might help to start by dividing the two practices into categories that facilitate our understanding of them independently. The terms science and design are both umbrella terms for two vast disciplines, each of which contain numerous specialities that require unique skills, processes and ways of thinking. The era before the Industrial Revolution was prone to a rather romanticised view of science, promoting an all-encompassing approach that utilised knowledge from the life sciences, chemistry, physics and the sub-divisions within. Today, however, the banks of scientific knowledge have been built upon in such volumes that specialism is required to increasingly narrow degrees. Max Little describes scientists as being encouraged to hyperspecialise [Little, 2014:86], which tends to lead scientific branches to forget they are in fact part of a tree. Design, too, implies a range of stand-alone practices that have clear distinctions spanning industrial, graphic, fashion, software, and architectural (and so on). Most design educations that Im personally familiar with emphasise a commitment to design specialism, tutoring the particular skills that have been established as the standard for each pathway. However, there seems to be a certain malleability to these practices that allows for a degree of interchangeability, reminiscent of the holistic approach that defined the science of the preIndustrial Revolution. My own design education can be categorised as multi-disciplinary (a term that seems to be employed more and more frequently by freelancers and start-ups today) encouraging students to discover alternative opportunities between disciplinary boundaries. There seems to 11 12

be an emergent idea that flexibility in design is valued over specialism, and while this might make pigeonholing some work difficult, it increases the chances of finding the best solution in a given design problem. It presents a stark contrast to the meticulous categorisation of modern science, which must be considered in the analysis of existing science-design collaboration. Rust makes sense of these differing approaches by describing science as atomistic and design as holistic [Rust, 2003]. An analysis of each possible combination of individual scientific and design disciplines is a staggering ambition, so for the purpose of this dissertation I will focus on those disciplines that participate in and are influenced by bio-design. Unless otherwise stated I will frame the subjects in question as scientists or science, which includes biotechnology, medical biology, life science and genetic engineering, and designers or design, which includes both specific and interdisciplinary approaches as well as speculative design fictions. Connections between science and design are by no means novel, and although the differences between them may seem at once obvious, a discussion of their practices and methods can lead to a surprising amount of confusion. Cross defines the following three possible science-design combinations: 1. Scientific Design 2. Design Science 3. The Science of Design

Scientific design refers to the shift from craftsmanship to manufacturing brought on by the Industrial Revolution which has introduced scientific underpinnings to various aspects of design. These include materials science and engineering, supporting the placement of design within the industrial world. While the definition itself is not particularly controversial, it presents the interesting perspective of scientific design as making science visible. Cross refers to designed objects as subtly implying a scientific consideration in their material makeup, but in the context of synthetic biology one could derive a slightly different meaning. As cellular investigations magnifier of these seemingly invisible discoveries. While living organisms are far from becoming the staple materials in general design practice, futurist projects that propose possible applications for synthetic biology fit the role of making science visible in a much more direct way. By exploring the potential social and cultural impacts of synthetic biology, designers are able to render the oft-convoluted specifics of emerging scientific research visible and relatable to the public eye. 11 12 function on the micro-scale, design can act as

Chapter One

Design Beyond Making was one such example: the speculative exhibition debated the effects environmental concerns and scientific innovation might have on societys use of materials. By presenting objects, videos and instructive manuals as ethnographic artefacts from a possible near future, Crosss explanation of scientific design was manifested in the speculative materials research, while also communicating an overall understanding of its uses and implications.

Chapter One

Design Beyond Making A design fictions exhibition speculating on the effects of science and technology on future commercial uses and personal relationships with materials Photos: Authors own Design Beyond Making, Protein Gallery London November 2013

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Design science on the other hand refers to an explicitly organized, rational, and wholly systematic approach to design [Cross, 2000:53], applying a standardised methodology to the design process. This assertion seems acutely questionable, especially when reflecting on my own design methods and ways of thinking. While falling into certain routines of working is an unavoidable habit of human nature, these modes of uncritical thinking are detrimental for innovation. The problem with a systemised design process is that it considerably limits the scope of design possibilities, tending to homogenise the outcomes. Merely applying scientific rigour to design methodology only seems beneficial for efficiency in mass production. Admittedly, both science and design employ cycles of reflection and iteration that may relate to one another. However, its important to remember that design is ultimately a people-focused discipline, meaning there Chapter One is a need to consider user interactions and emotional experiences in the design process that is not present in science. Jane Fulton Suri and R. Michael Hendrix of IDEO refer to these factors as design sensibilities [Suri, 2010], distinctly categorising them as separate from design methods. Crosss description of design science does not account for them, reducing design thinking to a handful of methods without contextual richness or empathy. As so deftly put by Tad Toulis, You cant turn design into complete logic, otherwise it loses its true power.1 Lastly, the science of design can be simply described as the academic study of design: i.e. how it works and the methods that are used. Cross argues that the main benefit of this is as platform for individuals to have conversations about their practice and find connections between their methodologies. While he specifically refers to conversations between designers of different specialities, it could be inferred that discussing the science of any field could increase cross-disciplinary understandings, including those between science and design.
1 Overheard on twitter: http://bit.ly/1dDtLxQ

Design Thinking A diagram outlining the balance between Design Methods and Design Sensibilities Image: Developing Design Sensibilities, Jane Fulton Suri & R. Michael Hendrix 2010

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Chapter One

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Motives and Metaphors

Although Cross definitions of various sciencedesign combinations warrant their merits, I remain unconvinced that they fully delineate designs complex entanglements with biotechnology. Propelled by scientific research, bio-design would be nowhere without the science to back it up. Yet without cultural speculation and probing, the social element that is key to design would be lost. Cross writes theoretically, but a practical investigation at the University of Cambridge revealed other complexities [Peralta, 2011]. In the study, scientists and designers of varying backgrounds worked together on three separate briefs, and while it helped bring to light some possible misunderstandings, the nature of the projects promoted a relationship between designer and scientist that was more like that of designer and client, rather than a truly collaborative practice. Nevertheless, the consistent culprits in these cases seemed to be communication and motivation. For a designer not fluent in complex laboratory speak, there might be opportunities for design innovation that are being misinterpreted or getting lost in translation. Wired often employs the popular analogy for synthetic biology as genetic code being like computer code, implying that life forms can be hacked like software [Goodman, 2013]. Although metaphors can be powerful tools to simplify abstract systems, its important not to confuse the metaphor for a literal translation. The outbreak of synthetic biology from its laboratory confines has given birth to programs like GenoCAD11 or Gene Designer that present genetic components as icons that can be dragged and dropped, cut and pasted into specific formations that allow for the design of a synthetic organism [Agapakis, 2011]. 17 18

Although programs like this may promote production and organisation of genetic code, they dont necessarily facilitate a comprehensive understanding of how the components actually interact or even what they mean. The software only presents a shallow understanding of the biological context and dynamics of gene transcription, disregarding the limits of the metaphor. In this sense, design acts as a flattener, smoothing over the uneven and abstracting away the uncertainties [McKenzie, 2009]. This is of course a crucial role for design, to make complex ideas more relatable and articulate a contextual framework. However as Professor Nikolas also mean that some of the scientific specificities are being wrongly applied to more abstract perceptions of the human body and life as a whole [Rose, 2007]. Its easy to imagine these abstractions leading to projects that are either misguided or limited to speculation without substance. Conversations with J.J. Hastings, a biomedical engineer from collaborative studio The Kitchen, confirmed this theory. Theres a danger of it becoming reductionist, but thats the limit of not being specialised in the field, says Hastings. Unless you have ten years of biomedical training, youre just not going to know everything that can be known [Hastings, 2013]. Perhaps the fostering of mutual understandings depends on a level of collaborative intimacy that enables a close regulation and the development of a shared formal language. And, perhaps these flattened understandings, while not always the most accurate, can provide fresh ways of thinking about science that otherwise wouldnt work in the lab. 17 18 Rose warns, in this flattened understanding, it could

Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Photos: Authors own Materials Workshop, Goldsmiths College October 2013

This introduces the second point about motivation designers approach their investigations knowing, however implicitly, that their research will eventually be manifested in some kind of designed outcome. Consequently the research is directed by the hope of inventing something new, whereas the motive of general scientific research is primarily the expansion of knowledge. One might pair science and art as creating for the sake of creating, as opposed to the constructivist drive of design and engineering.

In my own design practice, the early stages of my investigations seemed directionless and random, but they implicitly informed the design decisions that would be made in later stages. The development of my work with yeast exemplifies a type of thinkering out loud with science that takes advantage of a flattened understanding. This is important because science must also engage in a type of imaginative invention in order to pursue certain types of research. Rust describes this as the leap of illumination that 19 20

scientists must make when proposing a new idea as a worthwhile subject of investigation something that no amount of logical reasoning could produce [Rust, 2004]. In these moments, it seems scientists too must partake in a type of design fiction, as they speculate on some future context to fit their research. This may be the crucial point for designers to step in, bringing a richer insight to the cultural needs and desires of the time.

The initial stage of imagining and enquiring may actually be more important than the process of discovery itself: correlations between design fiction and science fiction, and their ability to spur multiple avenues of investigation is a trending topic in todays design world, most notably discussed by Julian Bleecker of The Near Future Factory in his essay Design Fiction: A Short Essay on Design, Science, Fact and Fiction [Bleecker, 2009].

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An early experiment involving living materials. Yeast is mixed with water and sugar to create a breathing typography that consumes glucose and releases carbon dioxide, growing and dying over time.

One example of effective mediation between design, science and fiction became apparent during a workshop that ran in conjunction with Design Beyond Making, hosted by the afore-mentioned studio The Kitchen made up of Hastings and her textiles designer counterpart Amy Congdon. Together they invented a new use for decellularisation (a scientific process that is normally reserved for regenerative medicine) by re-appropriating it for the creation of a new type of material. Working with a designer opened me up to an interest in materials, Hastings grinned at me. As a biomedical researcher, theres a way of doing things within a certain setting; the [lack of] sterility in a setup like this just wouldnt be done in a professional setting for tissue engineering. But working with a

designer has completely freed up my notions of what is the way forward. Its playful [Hastings, 2013]. Perhaps its within this playful context that science and design fit best together, allowing cooperative leaps of illumination and the development of a mutual empathy. The slightly trite analogy might be that of two children who dont speak the same language but can play in the same imaginary world. This multifaceted approach to life sciences was pioneered by interdisciplinary research lab SymbioticA, the first known studio allowing artists and designers of differing backgrounds access to university lab equipment and staff. Offering a fully experiential program involving academic courses, personal and collaborative work opportunities, workshops, exhibitions and public forums, the most telling aspect of their proclaimed objective is to perform concept-generating activities that are curiosity-based [SymbioticA.uwa.edu.au, 2014].

Chapter Two

for implementing a design approach to a scientific curiosity, committing explicitly to neither discipline but instead suggesting new forms of research and idea production that are relevant to both.

Photos: Authors own De-Cellular, Protein Gallery London November 2013

De-Cellularisation A process that is normally used for biomedical engineering, de-cellularisation involves stripping an organic material of its cells, leaving behind only the extracellular matrix. In the medical industry this matrix is used for seeding new cells, but Congdon and Hastings apply more traditional textiles methods to explore how it can be used as a material to make with

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For my own practice, it provides the perfect platform

De-Cellularisation A de-cellularised piece of bacon

Photo: Authors own De-Cellular, Protein Gallery London November 2013

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BioPunks
The Rogue Side of Doing Biology
BioHackspace, London A space for members to make, experiment, hack and tinker with biology Photo: Authors own Hackspace London October 2013

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If scientists and designers can successfully work together to mediate their objectives and develop socially meaningful applications for designed life, it opens the case for visions of idyllic utopias and unsettling dystopian futures. In reality the direction of science-design collaborations in biotechnology will largely be chauffeured by the agendas of industry, government, healthcare and academia. No matter the vocal strength social media and global connectivity have given us as citizens, the institutional stakeholders involved in emerging technology will inevitably design its applications in their own terms. Onerous patenting laws aside, Chapter Three engaging fully in genetic engineering requires equipment and chemicals that are expensive and hard to come by. As a response, we are witnessing the growth of DIYbio, a sub-group of the DIY Maker Movement that holds the same penchant for open-source knowledge and freely available tools. Spawned by the success of makeshift basement laboratories like New Yorks Genspace and Californias BioCurious, the movement has not only risen to an actively competitive level in the participation of the International Genetic Engineering Machine Competition (iGEM), but inspired several similar labs in various parts of the world. These Bio-Hackers or BioPunks firmly believe that cellular exploration should not be hidden behind walls of authority and strict regulation, and responsible individuals without a formal science background have equal right to participate. Despite the originally negative connotations of the term hacker in computer programming, the hacking done by BioPunks promotes an altogether different idealism: one of creative, custom innovations relying

mainly on the collective intelligence of a community. As with any type of hacking be it in biology, coding or making the hack is the solution to any given problem. And in essence the only thing the hack requires is the freedom to access as many tools and as much knowledge as possible [Wohlsen, 2011]. The strengthening DIY community is the mark of a quickly changing global framework brought on by the digital age. As emerging generations increasingly formulate their cultural agendas by cutting, pasting and re-tweeting their way through life, the protection of intellectual property is becoming a somewhat archaic idea, overshadowed by the appeal of easily exchangeable and available information. True ownership of any content that is released online remains a perpetually foggy area, the discussion of which is weighty enough for its own dissertation. But its many connotations aside, without these changing notions of ownership, hacking would not exist the way it does today. While traditional science institutions continue to be plagued by patenting laws that slow the publishing and progression of research, hackers see these procedures as tiresome obstacles in obtaining useful knowledge. Professor Alexandra Anderson of Imperial College laments the hierarchical publishing system that validates a piece of science research: If your research isnt published, its like it never happened [Anderson, 2013]. For a hacker however, the biggest success comes from the hack itself, after which the hack can be shared freely for others to adopt and iterate [Wohlsen, 2011]. At its very core, the hacker movement is about empowerment, and you are only as empowered as the tools you can get your hands on.

Yet while many tout the merits of community empowerment, DIYbio is not immune to the same concerns that permeate cultural perceptions about genetic engineering. The very idea that average citizens will best know how to use synthetic biology to suit their own needs is marred by the undeniable fact that they are not experts in the subject. Accidents (or deliberate harm) in the wood shop or computer lab can result in dismembered fingers, a pesky computer virus or even national missiles being fired off. Yet the invisibility of bacteria, of illnesses and pandemics, and the inherent knowledge that living things mutate as a rule of nature, unlocks a more primal fear in us as a society. With synthetic biology there is always the implicit danger that the object of your inquiry could kill you [Wohlsen, 2011:87]. A computer virus with no off button seems a lot less terrifying than a human virus with no off button, and if the blueprints of bacterial formations were to be as freely available as BioPunks want them to be, it seems a lot more likely that the biological version of the 3D printed gun scandal might occur, invisible to the naked eye until its too late. The last year has seen platforms like Kickstarter successfully source funding for DIYBio projects like Glowing Plant and Dino Pet, which were met with a bittersweet mixture of applause for innovative sustainability, and fretful hand-wringing over the wide distribution of unauthorised manipulated lifeforms. For the time being however, these public concerns may be slightly exaggerated. In practice, the level of scientific expertise needed for these types of fears to be confirmed is generally much higher than what can be achieved through self-taught methods and an

oddball collection of donated equipment. The existing regulations around acquiring potentially detrimental biological material to begin with is nearly impossible for people with no credentials in professional science [Wohlsen, 2011]. My own experience at Londons BioHackspace led me take bacterial samples from various parts of my body and grow them for analysis, which as a novice in bacterial science was intriguing, but ultimately did not exceed the level of a biology experiment in high school. Oliver Medvedik of Genspace noted that all of their biological material is strictly non-pathogenic, commenting on the publics distorted perception of the billions of potentially dangerous microbes that fester around us daily [Eng, 2012]. The BioPunks that cause the most potential harm seem to be those who have turned their experimentation on themselves, ironically posing much less threat to the worried. 27 28 organisms used in the hackspace in comparison to

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BioHackspace, London Taking bacterial samples from isolated areas of my body and cultivating them in petri dishes Photos: Authors own Hackspace London October 2013

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Self Samples Cultivated bacteria taken from my armpit

Photo: Authors own Hackspace London October 2013

The main virtue of spaces like these, then, seems to lie in the openness and ease with which the members are able to cross-pollinate their skills and ideas. Given the diverse set of backgrounds and professions, the members are more prone to appreciating the opportunities in alternative approaches to problemsolving. In a sense, BioPunks are most talented at the playfulness that could make institutional sciencedesign collaboration more effective. Its important to remember that in the grand scheme of things, DIYbio is still in its infancy (public attention was first drawn to it around 2005), so as of yet its rather difficult to predict what designs role will be. The current objective of DIYbio is first and foremost the accessibility of tools and equipment. While spaces like Genspace have promoted some creative projects, the bulk of achievements in the movement seem to lie in hacking the means to at-home science experiments, by proving it can be done with scant materials and Chapter Three money. Admittedly, this in itself should be considered a type of design feat, as equipment and tools are redesigned to suit personal needs and capabilities. The priorities for my own equipment are accessibility and portability before scientific accuracy; I dont need my tools to match the standards of those in a science lab in order to benefit from them, as I am by no means looking to make medical breakthroughs or discover new organisms. Rather, its in the re-appropriation of scientific methods that creativity lends itself, just as The Kitchen re-appropriated decellularisation for a textile designers ends. As a designer taking part in science activities without proper instruction, I feel akin to the ethos of DIYbio only to the extent that I hack alternative or more design-appropriate ways of performing scientific activities. The tools I invented for extracting and exploring bodily materials, while useful within the scope of the design project, may not necessarily provide any function for a purely scientific investigation of the human body. The customisation and small-scale nature of this type of hacking is therefore layered with individual forms

of tacit knowledge. The point at which I depart from the DIYBio path and into the realm of design thus seems to be in the analysis and application of whatever discoveries I make. We spoke before of design as a flattener, of streamlining the bumpy connections between science and its entanglements with businesses, governments and culture in favour of efficacy. Here it might take on an alter-ego in the form of mess-making, by envisioning a multiplicity of participants in the making and making-sense of science and its related tools and practices [McKenzie, 2009].

DIY Stethoscope Hacking a stethoscope to connect to a minimicrophone, enabling it to be hooked up to an external speaker Photos: Authors own Goldsmiths College November 2013

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4
BioCommerce
Genetic Gold or Garbage Tissue?

The ethical concerns about designed biology hit close to home for most people theres something about living things becoming commercialised that as a society we cant seem to get over. If suddenly biology is being designed, the implication is that its being designed to be sold, the significance of which becomes none the more poignant when it concerns our own bodies. Dynamic Genetics Vs. Mann, a design fiction by futurist studio Superflux clearly exemplifies some of these concerns by narrating the case of a victim of genetic discrimination by future insurance companies. Saddled with an impossibly high health insurance bill or the risk of unemployment, the protagonist turns to counterfeit gene therapy to lower the cost of his health insurance, provoking debate around ideological struggles about identity, surveillance and ownership that are presented by advancing biotechnology. The truth of the matter is that a scientific reduction of the human body to data banks of genetic information has been ongoing for over a decade, most notably by the Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP). Masked as a kind of philanthropic quest to preserve the genetic details of endangered tribes, the project involved extracting genetic materials of indigenous and isolated communities to study and manipulate their biological traits. Modern medicine has seen countless cases of blood cell lines and other human tissue being retained in efforts to further understand ancestral histories, heritable diseases and population genetics [Andrews, 2001]. Most famously chastised for its ambiguous tenets around informed consent and questionable treatment of indigenous people, the moral complexity of the HGDP is deeply rooted in cultural and individual perspectives on the human body. Some may gladly donate their bodies to 35 36

scientific research; others are religiously or culturally bound by the traditions of their community or upbringing. Scientists who view human substances like blood, hair, saliva and sperm to be fully replenish-able and therefore disposable are not paying attention to the cultural and emotional importance people place on the components of their body; they are missing the sensibilities that so distinctly separate design from science. After all, if a person can be fully identified by the DNA present in every drop of their blood, surely there are deep emotional connections that should be considered when its retained for experimentation. body parts are entrenched in the ideas, perceptions, and associations we have about ourselves and our lives, and exploiting them as commercial products may not agree with our social beliefs. Yet the exponentially dropping price of DNA sequencing and increasing popularity of genomics services like 23andMe suggests an inherent human desire to understand and analyse our bodies on a personal scale. This could be for the sake of inheritance risk assessment, motivation for a lifestyle change or plain curiosity, but it presents the conflicting decision between the empowerment in understanding yourself and the ultimate helplessness you might face with the discovery of an incurable condition. It brings to light the thorny relationship between a clinical understanding of our biological makeup and the undeniable emotional ties we have with our personal traits. The culture and ethics of increasing body commodification have begun to infiltrate the design world also, most notably discussed in the Body/Art/ Bioethics symposium hosted by SymbioticA and the Tissue Culture And Art Project of the same director. Chapter Four
Dynamic Genetics Vs. Mann A design fiction project by Superflux, narrating the court case of a victim of genetic discrimination who consequently turns to black market gene therapy Photos: dynamicgenetics.co.uk January 2014

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Human tissue trafficking causes uproar because our

Selected presentation pages outlining mined human substances and consequent experiments Downwards from top row: Sweat collected after exercise and boiled for salt and mineral extraction; Yeast in skin scrapings used to bake bread; Endurance testing of hair and saliva between two individuals Photos: Authors own November 2013

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Where the initial collection of my skin, saliva, sweat and hair felt rather clinical and detached, the point at which my experiments gained momentum and character was in the playfulness that came with Chapter Four influence from The Kitchen. Attempting to bake bread with the yeast I suspected to live on my skin introduced a ritualistic and social element that was missing in the rows of plastic beakers filled with sweat. Combining the scientific knowledge of human yeast cultures with the domestic tradition of breadmaking provided a fertile introduction to the social, cultural and personal ideas about identity, ownership and acceptability that can be both breached and highlighted when dealing with human tissue. The use of your own skin in an activity as globally relevant yet historically domestic as cooking suggests a symbiotic relationship between a hyper-awareness of the self and the biological processes that normally go unnoticed. The value of my skin thus becomes centred not on the market value it might garner in the medical industry, but on its ability to function in this lateral interpretation of its genetic components. Saliva Of The Fittest takes on the playful element of scientific investigation quite literally by prototyping a game where two participants can compete with the digestive capabilities of their saliva. Funny at best and disgusting at worst, the game acts similarly

to the bread experiment in that it celebrates the saliva not for its market genetic value but for its biological genetic value how well it can do what it was designed by nature to do. Despite the almost inseparable ties between DNA and identity, in its researchers can systemise the tissue collection process to the extent that the tissues ironically become nearly unidentifiable. Sitting amongst a sea of glass vials categorised by numbers and letters that yield no indication of name, face or cultural origin, the human materials collected in the medical research field can become eerily un-human. In contrast, the game presents an alternative opportunity to take pride in the biological merits of our genetic makeup within a social context, taking advantage of human substances that may not be commercially valuable but are actually indispensable for human functionality. Without saliva we cannot survive, yet it is generally discarded without thought, and usually dismissed as an unsavoury facet of the human body. By competing with something as simultaneously trivial and vital as saliva, the prototype proposes a reconsideration of the value of the biological traits that we may not necessarily be able to train or reflect on as important parts of our genetic identities.
Full video: vimeo.com/81530408 Saliva of the Fittest A competition of the digestive speed between saliva provided by two individuals Photo: Authors own December 2013

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search for medically poignant genetic strains, medical

Saliva of the Fittest A competition of the digestive speed between saliva provided by two individuals

Photo: Authors own December 2013

Smell-artist and scientist Sissel Tolaas takes a similar perspective on the human body through her olfactory explorations. Regarding the body as a tool of invisible communication, Tolaas collects sweat molecules from individuals and analyses their chemical makeup in relation to emotional factors like fear or anxiety, unlocking marvel at the previously unconsidered intricacy of such a largely disregarded material. In another project Bacterially, Tolaas collaborated with synthetic biologist Christina Agapakis to cultivate cheeses made from human armpit or foot bacteria, drawing parallels between body odours, food odours and the power of suggestion. Similar to my use of saliva and skin, there is a distinct tension between the pre-conceived yuck factor dictated by social norms, and the alternative perceptions provoked by an alternative context. It questions the established notions about what we find appealing, interesting or valuable about our bodies, which when studied Chapter Four objectively, can begin to seem to absurd.

Sissel Tolaas is a smell artist with a specific focus on human smells, how they are created and how we perceive them. With higher education in chemistry, art and language, her work is an interesting blend of the three, using fragrance as an ethnographic tool and communicator.

These explorations of the self, and the materiality most successfully tied together the various aspects of my research. Unlike the bacterial samples taken at the Hackspace, the tangible tactility of my skin, hair and saliva allowed me to easily experiment and play in ways that helped me learn about their makeup, formulate avenues of investigation and also excited my design curiosity. However, despite interactions with different areas of the scientific community, the work only fits with Cross defintion of scientific design to the extent that the scientific information was based on suspicions and hunches guided by
(Clockwise from top) Walls painted with the pheromones of unidentified anxious men; Tokyos smellscape mapped with words; Tokyos smellscape mapped with samples Photos: Authors own Bunny Smash, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo December 2013

iterative cycles of experimentation. Literary research and verbal confirmation from authorities was used to justify or nudge these suspicions, but it was rarely a primary instigator of any activity. In fact, my complete lack of scientific expertise almost prohibited me from doing otherwise, leaning my experiments toward the do-it-yourself formula, and deliberating alternative social norms surrounding genetic identity and human value that are defined by my own design sensibilities and rather than scientific precision. Chapter Four

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of the human body is perhaps the element that has

5
Conclusion
A personal reflection on BioDesign

So where have we come to with bio-design? In Chapter 1 I discussed a variety of scientific areas and forms in which design can manifest and give benefit. Peraltas study for the University of Cambridge highlighted how misaligned objectives and communication problems between scientists and designers pose as the most notable obstacles. As a result Ive suggested that the most mutually lucrative area for science-design collaboration lies in the type of non-committal playfulness of joint experimentation exemplified by The Kitchen, and outlined how this approach is manifested in my own work. For scientists working with designers, this can be a welcome opportunity for the kind of inventive brainstorming that may help them make more innovative leaps of illumination, providing an alternative approach to the making sense of biotechnology. For designers working with scientists, it provides a richer and more culturally poignant toolkit of materials, processes and contexts with which to inform their work, keeping bio-design on the cusp of relevancy and cultural interest. However, at the moment the majority of creative work engaging with synthetic biology that can be most clearly classified as design seems to be situated in the design fiction or speculative camp, bridging the gap between convoluted scientific research and the implications it has on communities, ethical boundaries and public debate. In this state design is effective even as a perpetually unrealised concept, a stark contrast to the reductionism and eliminatory process required by science enquiries. By proposing multiple possible futures and provoking thought about the right way to introduce this technology into the hands of the public, design is fulfilling its role as a people-centered practice and moral regulator. 45 46

Design proposals of this type are prescriptive as well as responsive, selling audiences constructed ideas as well as accounting for their concerns and desires. No matter the type of science-design combination, the designerly element of the project becomes clear with the enforcement of design sensibilities acting as a mediator between the scientific information and its ramifications on culture, society, government and business. Opportunities to collaborate at Londons Hackspace, while interesting for the purpose of inspiring selfempowerment, proved to be less concerned with the creation of socially interesting projects than it was with catching up with institutional activities in biotechnology. Nevertheless, hackspaces overall do seem to tread a blurry line between biology and design that I suspect will secure their place in the unfurling domain of bio-design. Groups like Genspace could be categorised as mess-makers of synthetic biology in that they experiment with it equally in the context of creative projects as well as standardised competitions like iGEM. As of yet however I would hesitate to call them designers even multi-disciplinary ones but its difficult to pinpoint exactly why. Perhaps I would feel more comfortable categorising their more creative endeavours as bio-art rather than bio-design, as projects like Glowing Plant or DinoPet successfully meld the scientific and the creative but do not quite exhibit coherent design sensibilities. On the other hand, open-source resources have begun to burst conventional ideas about authority in all fields, and with knowledge about almost every form of making being shared and applied by people of all backgrounds, the question of Who designs? is

drawn to the forefront. As McKenzie points out, the answer to this was at one point obvious: scientists and biological engineers took the role of designers within their specialised fields, as they manipulated cells for specific forms or functions. Yet there are elements in the institutional practice of biotechnology that demonstrate a shift in the organisation, distribution and responsibilities in doing biology, most notably embodied in the relevant digital network cultures. Websites like OpenWetWare (and indeed the general structure of iGEM) promote flexible interchanges of imitation and invention through the sharing of knowledge and protocols, bringing different figures of design into flux with one another. biotechnology in the image of open-source networks and web-centric collaboration, the question of who designs what becomes less defined. This is the very heart of the hacking movement, and it looks set to the challenge the conventions of design just as much as those of science. While embracing diversity and knowledge transferability can combat the monotony of a one size fits all approach, its important to remain acutely aware of designs role in this context. In this sense there must also be an explicit understanding of the motives and potential of each party; a constant exchange that I grappled with in my own explorations. While the bacterial samples I cultivated proved too scientifically sterile to provoke design inspiration within my own capabilities, the tactility of using saliva or hair inspired a playfulness and curiosity that only later required more scientific literature to provide a firmer contextual foothold. Nevertheless, taking advantage of my tacit knowledge when acting on suspicions was what defines and characterises the 45 46 [McKenzie, 2009]. By moulding the development of

Conclusion

Michael Burton and Michiko Nittas project Republic of Salivation envisions a future governed by food shortages and famine, resulting in food rations that are tailored to the physical, emotional and intellectual requirements of each individuals employment. The concept is exemplified by the characterisation of an industrial worker, whose largely starch based diet allows for longer working hours on fewer nutrients. The biological effects of such a government controlled mono-diet are consequently taken advantage of as the worker harnesses the increased presence of amylase in his saliva for the illegal production of alcohol.

stirring debate in the design community about feasibility and scientific plausibility. Yet critics of the project seem to have somewhat missed the point: design fictions like these do not necessarily stem from a problem-solution motive, but are instead catalysts for social discussion, dealing with uncomfortable issues in uncomfortable ways. Therefore a successful science-design project is not necessarily contingent on scientific accuracy, but on its ability to provoke debate, inspired by the types of suspicions that have so far guided my own experiments.

(Clockwise from bottom) Contraption for saliva collection; Illegal alcohol distillery alongside photographic food porn; Process of eating government-supplied starch blocks Photos: designandviolence. moma.org; burtonnitta.co.uk/ republicofsalivation.html

work, placing it within a cultural framework, boosted by the intense subjectivity of working with my own body parts. In this sense, while scientists must understand the multi-faceted skill set of emerging designers that goes beyond that of an aesthetic organiser, visualiser or streamliner, designers must also stay privy to their own culture, approaches and designerly ways of thinking [Cross, 2000] that distinguishes them in their own identifiable form of practice, rather than merely copying and borrowing certain methods and ideas from other disciplines. In the spirit of Tolaas endeavours to deconstruct, analyse and experiment with a biological function as influential yet scientifically overlooked as smell, my experiments with saliva and skin thus paid homage to the smell artists mantra: I have what scientists dont have the guts to go out there and try my ideas out in reality [Khemsurov, 2009]. The scraping, plucking, tweezing, and hoarding of my body parts, while bizarre and unappetizing to some, presented a unique platform on which a clinical, objective analysis was constantly jostling with the intense subjectivity of literally working with pieces of myself. To this effect, no matter how scientifically accurate or systemised my experiments could be, the design sensibilities regarding ownership, identity, culture and tradition that surround our relationships with our bodies could never be ignored. Republic of Salivation sits at the intersection of this tension between science, design and speculative thinking, 47 48 This is a path that I hope to pursue, investigating how biological and cultural perspectives on the body grapple with each other in the biotechnology age. In some ways its a very literal, personal embodiment of Ginsbergs idea of design as a translator of the mass of stuff that surrounds and mugs our everyday lives except in this case the focus is not on the mass of stuff around us, but the mass of stuff inside us. It brings to view a new type of relationship between designer and object that must be considered in the overall picture of biotechnology: the more we design with living things, the more we close the gap between what we make and what were made of, complicating our perceptions of our surroundings and ourselves. Conclusion However, my endeavours have as of yet only thrived on a much more personal scale by mining parts of my body for personal experiments, I indulged in my own code of ethics that remains impervious to institutional, political or economic drivers. Instead of focusing explicitly on the DNA code that is so coveted by medicine, government and business, that deals more generally with the functionality and materiality of the substances we produce and dispose of subconsciously. I suspect the next stage will be the consideration of a wider cultural scope, experimenting with the power of context and suggestion to draw out alternative reactions to the same central subject matter. 47 48 my approaches considered another type of value

Conclusion

Droog Den Haag, The Netherlands January April 2012

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Additional Reading
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Aldhous, P. (2013, June 7). Do glowing house plants take gene tinkering too far?. New Scientist. Retrieved November 3, 2013, from http://www.newscientist.com/ article/dn23668-do-glowing-house-plants-take-genetinkering-too-far.html#.UnaSKJR5xfg Body/Art/Bioethics: A SymbioticA Symposium. (August, 2010). Retrieved January 10th, 2014, from http://www.bodyartbioethics.symbiotica.uwa.edu.au/ Elowitz, M., & Wendell, L. (2010, December 16). Build Life to Understand It. Nature, 468, 8898890.

Jorgensen, E. (2012, June). Ellen Jorgensen: Biohacking - you can do it, too. TED: Ideas worth spreading. Retrieved October 19, 2013, from http:// www.ted.com/talks/ellen_jorgensen_biohacking_you_ can_do_it_too.html Keller, E. (2013, November 3). Should we fear DNA testing?. The Guardian. Retrieved November 3, 2013, from http://www.theguardian.com/ commentisfree/2013/nov/03/dna-testing-privacyconcers-benefits?CMP=twt_fd Kickstarter crowd gives glowing plant the green

Endy, D. (2011, March 3). On Biotechnology Without Borders. Seed Magazine. Retrieved October 28, 2013, from http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/on_ biotechnology_without_borders/

light. (2013, July 5). BBC News. Retrieved October 23, 2013, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/ technology-22433866 London bio-hackers catching the eye of

Wannabe Scientists Build Structures From Living Cells. Wired. Retrieved November 13, 2013, from http://www.wired.com/design/2013/01/diy-bioprinter/ Gallagher, J. (2013, July 11). Massive DNA volunteer hunt begins. BBC News. Retrieved October 23, 2013, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health24834375?ocid=socialflow_twitter_bbcnews Hammersley, B. (2009, August 10). At home with the DNA hackers. Wired UK. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/ archive/2009/09/features/at-home-with-the-dnahackers

Retrieved October 21, 2013, from http://www.bbc. co.uk/news/uk-england-london-19964886 Saletan, W. (2011, February 1). Synthetic biology and Obamas bioethics commission: How can we govern the garage biologists who are tinkering with life?. Slate Magazine. Retrieved October 19, 2013, from http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_ tense/2011/02/faking_organisms.html Thackara, J. (2013, December 19). Republic of Salivation (Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta). Design and Violence. Retrieved January 12, 2014, from http:// designandviolence.moma.org/republic-of-salivationmichael-burton-and-michiko-nitta/

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Additional Reading

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Flaherty, J. (2013, January 22). DIY Bioprinter Lets

professionals. (2012, October 16). BBC News.