Back in September, we talked with Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg about her RCA graduation project on bacteria hacking and synthetic biology. She’s barely stopped moving since then – she’s currently working on a new research project in Australia, but before she disappeared off to the other side of the world, she joined up with a team from Cambridge University for an entry in the International Genetically Engineered Machines Competition (iGEM) held last week at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Daisy and fellow designer James King collaborated with the Cambridge team that produced the Grand Prize winning entry, out of 1700 participants and 112 teams, which we think is a real testament to what happens when you bring intelligent designers in on projects right from the outset. Daisy and James worked alongside the students in the lab over the summer, and encouraged them, as she put it to “think outside the petri dish”.
Their proposals for the resulting project – E.Chromi: a pigment-producing variant of the E.Coli bacteria developed in the Cambridge labs – was certainly eye catching. Daisy and James rocked up to MIT with a secure briefcase containing a selection of lightly polychrome turds, with each colour variant created by the bacteria designed to highlight the presence of a particular disease in the delivering body. Rather like bacterial disclosing tablets, this futuristic diagnostic tool is proposed as an inexpensive way of monitoring your own health, and checking up on the presence of diseases to which you might already know you have a genetic susceptibility.
The Scatalog was one of seven separate futuristic proposals that Daisy and James presented to the Cambridge team, all of which were intended to help the scientists thing of the real-world applications and impact of their creations (good and bad), and how the results of their research might one day be translated into commercial products. The designers also helped the students understand the importance of being able to communicate what they were doing effectively to the outside world, by encouraging them to think about how their work fitted into developments taking place beyond the laboratory.