What is Synthetic Biology?
Synthetic Biology is a new approach to engineering biology. By applying engineering principles to the complexity of living systems, scientists and engineers are turning biology into a new design material. Synthetic biology involves understanding and modeling natural entities and processes on a molecular scale: modifying existing organisms such as bacteria through intentional design and construction; building synthetic organisms capable of accomplishing specified goals; constructing new organisms from the bottom up.
Its supporters hope to turn biology into something that can be designed and constructed in the same way electronic components are pieced together to produce working computers. By using standard biological parts – ‘biological bricks’ made of DNA - some synthetic biologists hope to simplify the making of useful organisms. Other scientists are attempting to design entirely new living systems, protocells, constructed from different biochemistry.
How can designers contribute?
The living world is no longer a product of evolutionary pressures alone. It becomes a product of design and manufacturing choices as well. Therefore, design comes to play a central part in the process. But designing nature is not straightforward. We tend to understand design in terms of tangible objects like telephones and buildings, rather than in the realm of microscopic biology. It becomes much more complicated when the realm of design is living material.
What does it mean to design nature, and how do designers fit into the process of making machines from biology? Architects work with structural engineers, product designers work with mechanical engineers. Could synthetic biology - and the questions it raises about the synthetic construction of life - benefit from such interactions?
What is Synthetic Aesthetics?
Synthetic Aesthetics is a research project run by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Stanford University, California. Synthetic biologists, like many engineers, are concerned with ‘design’. By instigating new collaborations between synthetic biologists, designers, artists, and social scientists, we are exploring the shared territory between synthetic biology and creative practice.