Radio Motherboard takes a deeper look into synthetic biology.
Kelp. Image: Bjorn Christian Torrissen
A few weeks ago we visited Biofabricate, a synthetic biology conference held at the Parsons School of Design.
Synthetic biology—which is a combination of engineer, molecular biology and sometimes biophysics—isn't a completely new field, but recently advancements have brought its products to the forefront. Spider silk Adidas sneakers, for example, were engineered through a process of isolating and fermenting spider silk polymers.
I spoke with two synthetic biologists who were presenting their own discoveries at the conference for Radio Motherboard. Aaron Nesser, of Bioesters, was working with alginate, found in kelp and seaweed, to see what could be created with this new, sustainable fiber. And Kenji Higashi, of Spiber, was presenting spider silk apparel, like a new North Face parka. Both of them have blue sky ideas for their field, and for how their work could provide sustainable options for our fossil fuel-heavy industries, namely fashion, as I wrote earlier.
But making clothes out of seaweed seems totally normal when you think of clothing made out of DNA, as Sam Cole reported. She interviewed Tina Gorjanc, the designer behind the Pure Human Project, about how biotech can infiltrate the luxury goods market, and expose legislative loopholes that protect human genetic information.
Read more: Would You Wear Fashion Made From Your Own DNA?
Meanwhile, human DNA seemed to be pretty popular at Biofabricate. We also met Heather Dewey-Hagborg who made human masks out of DNA she collected through scraps of hair and saliva. But the artist is now worried, she said, that law enforcement might be using the same technique to make guesses about criminals. Guesses, she said, that could be highly inaccurate.
Read more: An Artist Who Uses DNA to Make Life-Like Masks Is Wary of Cops Doing the Same
And of, course, Andrew Pelling, the guy who "grew" a human area out of an apple. This one was particularly memorable, especially if you saw the human tissue in person.
The synthetic biology industry has the potential to truly influence and change the way we consume and use everyday objects, and exactly what those objects are made out of. But the scientists at Biofabricate would be the first to tell you: it's only just begun.
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