By Christina Agapakis
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Van Balen is a designer whose work explores the boundary between art and science in synthetic biology. From his website:
Tuur Van Balen (Belgium, 1981) uses design to explore the political implications of emerging technologies. Through designing and experimenting with new interactions, he constructs thought-provoking new realities. Both the process of creating these objects, interventions and narratives as the resulting physical presence aim to confuse, question and confront different publics with the possible (and impossible) roles of technologies in our everyday lives.
I couldn’t find BioBricks in the Parts Registry for the production of prozac, but you can learn more about engineering the yogurt bacteria Lactobacillus to produce new colors and flavors from the 2007 Edinburgh iGEM team and making your own incubator and other lab supplies from the 2010 ArtScience Bangalore iGEM team. More about Van Balen’s other projects can be found on his website, including Pigeon d’Or, which imagines using BioBricks that produce grease-digesting lipases to engineer bacteria that live in the pigeon digestive tract, turning this urban pest into a helpful city cleaning system.
While getting DNA into a (well-studied, culturable) bacterial cell might be easier than you think, the task of designing and optimizing a functional, useful, and safe gene system is a lot more complicated, providing both the excitement and challenge of synthetic biology. Work at the interface of design and synthetic biology can ask important questions about how new technologies are created, used, applied, and sold, helping us figure out what is good design.