Design for Life


Session Title:

  • Digitization of Biological Data

Presentation Title:

  • Design for Life




  • To design novel biological systems, synthetic biology has created new software technologies, such as GeneDesigner, Rosetta, Foldit, and molecular graphics programs such as Chimera, that draw on other areas of design such as architecture, fashion, media production and electrical engineering to manipulate DNA and produce novel protein structures –the work horses of cellular function.

    These new design technologies, it is argued, capture a surplus essential to life within a web of aesthetic and cultural practices, aimed at mass producing novel life integral to the digital economy and biocapital (Mackenzie 2010). Rather than capturing a surplus essential to life, however, I suggest the creation of these technologies as a means to design novel biological systems signals a change in the meaning of biological life indissociable from its digital aesthetic expression.

    To address the creation of new media technologies to synthetically produce novel biological systems, as it bears on what is meant by biological life, I will draw on my recent research at the Pier Luigi Luisi Synthetic Biology Laboratory in Rome.  Drawing on Greg Lynn’s development of architectural design software to create architectural forms, based on geneticistWilliam Bateson’s notion of symmetry breaking, I have begun to explore the generative design of proteins aesthetically interpolating the experimental debate between the control of life through bioinformatic design and its emergence through the random sequencing of DNA.

    (Please note my creative research is indissociably theoretical and practical, interplaying the philosophy of biological science with the aesthetics of bioinformatic design and experimental synthetic biology.  To what extent I discuss the practical dimension of my work, however, will depend on its progress at the time of presentation).

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