Synbiobeta 2018: Design Horizons in Synthetic Biology

By Faber Futures

Synthetic biologists are making biology easier to engineer to provide solutions to pressing environmental and health challenges. The development of new technologies, processes, and systems for engineering living things are spurring this new industry. This is a huge technical challenge solved by DNA synthesis, robots, and other tools. But making biology easier to engineer doesn’t end there. Technologies are made by humans who inhabit and are shaped by social, environmental, political, and economic contexts. These systems influence and are influenced by cultural forces that shape how societies and technologies evolve together. When it comes to the design of biology, design thinking is intrinsic to connect the molecular scale with the human and ecological realm.

Our next stop on our recent visit took us to San Francisco for 2018’s annual Synbiobeta conference where we co-hosted a thought leaders dinner with Ginkgo Bioworks. We curated and led an evening of conversations between invited guests who included start-up and established business leaders and influential voices from the cultural and media world. Using the Faber Futures’ design thinking framework which focuses on Ecology, Cultures, Materiality and Frontiers, they explored how the synthetic biology industry can be mission-driven to enable sustainable development initiatives.

We also contributed to discussions on design and science literacy as part of the Genetic Literacy panel hosted by Christine Gould, with Meagan Lizarazo, Robert Friedman, Jon Entine, and John Chesnut. Our founder and director Natsai Audrey Chieza weighed in on educating the next generation of post-disciplinarians, transparency, and creative public engagement with biotechnology.

In conversation with Christina Agapakis (Creative Director at Ginkgo Bioworks), we shared our thinking and insights on the many intersections, opportunities and challenges in bridging design practice with biology, based on our experience with the Ginkgo Creative Residency which we co-developed and co-curate with Ginkgo Bioworks’ Creative Team.

Synbiobeta 2018 Genetic Literacy panel hosted by Christine Gould, with Meagan Lizarazo, Natsai Audrey Chieza, Jon Entine, Robert Friedman, and John Chesnut. Credit: Synbiobeta.
Natsai Audrey Chieza at Synbiobeta 2018 Genetic Literacy panel hosted by Christine Gould, with Meagan Lizarazo, Jon Entine, Robert Friedman, and John Chesnut. Credit: Synbiobeta

When the design of products, services and systems intersects with the design of biology, it is essential that the technologies we build reflect, and even respond to, the values of the people they will serve. From sustainable biofabrication to the equitable distribution of biotechnologies, how we foster an approach to innovation that is built on both technical capacity and the social contingent of genetic technologies is a conversation that we will continue to drive.

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