Christina Agapakis

Science & culture





Blueprints for the Unknown: Synthetic Biology as Collective Fantasy

Rather than asking if synthetic biology will save the world or destroy it, perhaps it's more useful to start with a much simpler question: does synthetic biology actually exist?

The Toast: Wolabachia, the misandrist bacteria

Symbiosis and the evolution of 100% female societies (in wasps).

Superflux Blog: DNA Stories

What if personalized medicine happens? Thinking about the future of our DNA dreams.

Omni Reboot: Edible Memories

Can you eat a memory? We take a peek into a long-forgotten controversy from the strange annals of biological psychology.

The Book of Invisible Life: Lactobacillus

Arc 1.3: Afterparty Overdrive: Fun and Games in the Garden

Industrialised biotechnology offers us commoditised biology, simplified and sterilised, hidden in vats pumping out medicines and fuels. In food and agriculture, biotechnology leaves us with just a handful of species that we then process into the thousands of products you can find at the supermarket. A team of iGEM students I mentored for the 2010 competition asked whether iGEM’s standardised parts could instead lead to a garden, its plants modified to produce different colours and flavours. Our team wasn’t immune from the iGEM trend towards gears and mechanisation (a friend, more cynical than I am, once suggested that iGEM’s primary output is actually logos with cells turning into gears). Still, we tried to include imagination, aesthetics, and taste in our engineering strategy, to make biotechnologies at the human scale. Food is not just fuel; it’s life, cuisine, and culture. Our bodies aren’t machines; they are complex biological systems, assemblages of human and microbial cells that grow and change. The genomes of the human ecosystem can be read and perhaps even rewritten, but they will still respond to our environment, to our food, to our culture, in varied and beautiful ways.

Six Parties Symposium on Synthetic Biology Travel Fellowship Essay

Timelines, roadmaps, and tools: navigating the futures of synthetic biology.

Synthesis Handbook

Contributor, handbook for Synthesis: synthetic biology in art and society.

Knowledge is Power, selected for Open Lab 2010.

Intellectuals in their self-flattering wish-fulfillment say that knowledge is power, but the truth is that knowledge further empowers only those who have or can acquire the power to use it.

-Richard Lewontin

Scientific American Guest Blog:
Mixed cultures: art, science, and cheese

Cheese is an everyday artifact of microbial artistry. Discovered accidentally when someone stored milk in a stomach-canteen full of gut microbes, acids, and enzymes thousands of years ago, cheesemaking evolved as a way to use good bacteria to protect milk from the bad bacteria that can make us sick, before anyone knew that bacteria even existed. In our modern world, with antimicrobial hand sanitizer dispensers in every elevator lobby, cheeses and other microbe-rich foods lie at the heart of a post-Pasteurian debate over the positive impact of microbes on our health and happiness.

Synthetic Biology of the Future: How bacteria could transform your life

Outside of the pressures of industry and professional academia (and the need for money making and publishable results), with the opportunity to ask crazy questions, the iGEM students have a unique opportunity to think about what the future of biological engineering will be and imagine short-term projects around such a long-term future. How will we design nature? How will bacteria--wild type and engineered--play a role in our lives? How will biology change industry, medicine, our daily life? Will it be fair, carbon neutral, safe?

Scientific Blogging (now Science 2.0) Graduate Student Writing Competition, 2009: On Failure

When a synthetic system doesn't behave in the predicted way, doesn't produce any behavior, or worse, kills the cell, these failures can imply any number of possible explanations, from the mundane experimental problems of everyday labwork, to an incomplete understanding of the system in question. The ambiguity of failures in synthetic biology can be seen as problems to be solved by engineers, but maybe they're just part of life.