I blog about biology, engineering, biological engineering, and biologically inspired engineering.
Synberc Blog: The Structure of Industrial Revolutions
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
The Crux, Discover Magazine Blogs
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.
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?
World Science Festival Blog: What if Science Were Like Sports?
In lab we often joke about what it would be like if science were more like sports-getting body-checked on the way to the cold room, PIs drenched in icy gatorade after the publication of a big paper, whispering commentators and polite clapping after a particularly arduous pipetting exercise. What if there were commercials for science as inspiring as commercials for Nike?
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.