From the 18th to the 20th of April 2012, designers from the RCA and Scientists from Trinity College got together at the Science Gallery in Dublin. The aim was to explore future scenarios around Synthetic Biology through a series of playful exercises designed as starting points for discussion.
The workshop was focused around Synthetic Biology and its impact on wider social and/or economic systems . The initial brief described our intentions as follows:
Commercial products are currently the optimised and standardised outputs of global systems. The wider the market for a single, cheaply replicable item, the bigger the profits. As Synthetic Biology gets closer to delivering on its promises and infiltrates every day life, the characteristics of living organisms could dictate a radical shift in this thinking. What happens when products get ill, ripen, adapt to their environment or to the way they are handled? When specific replaces standardised, can global strategies still be applied? How does intellectual property, or liability play out when products with a ‘life of their own’ evolve over time and generations? What does the business plan look like?
Our goal was to propose playful exercises which triggered the imagination of scientists and provided a common ground for discussion. Coming from the point of view of design, the 'bio-revolution' promises to enable the creation of whole new life-forms from scratch. However, living organisms are very different from the materials and processes we are used to dealing with. Mutation, synbiosis and randomness are seemingly incompatible with the engineering logic driving Synthetic Biology today. Design in this context may be more about trial and error and contingencies than reliable and standard biological 'parts'. When you zoom out to bigger systems such as a society or global economics, how could these things play out? The Mutant Products workshop was the first step in probing this area, towards the first round of specualtive projects by the team of designers from the Royal College of Art.
David Benqué, Designer
Simon Caroll, Bioengineer, Trintiy College
Lara Dungan, Immunologist, Trinity College
Matthew Gardiner, Artist, Ars Electronica
Cathal Garvey, Synthetic Biologist, Indie Biotech
Studio Nand, Designers
Paula Murphy, Developmental Biologist, Trinity College
Shaun O'Boyle, Science Communication, Science Gallery
Rebecca Rolfe, Developmental Biologist, Trinity College
Synbio Economy Mapping
photo by Studio Nand
(Where does the money come from and where does it go? Or, will there be any money at all?)
(Where should we store all the blueprints – DNA based hard drives build into networks of drones, flying 5km high in the sky…)
This exercise deals with economic and social structures within a society that established synthetic biology in a large scale - it became a common technology. In the game, groups of three to four participants (scientists and designers) are encouraged to envision such interactions and describe them as relations between individuals, communities, parties, institutions or other socio-cultural entities.The goal of this is not to create scientific believable systems – but rather to generate situations and relations between people that are based on the bio-synthetic revolution.
Synbio Tarot Reading
photo by Studio Nand