‘Biohacking for Designers’ Workshop @UAL

DNA Extraction. Photo by Maya Gadd.

“IT’S NOT WHAT YOU DO, BUT HOW YOU THINK/DO IT”.….

I recently organised and ran a day workshop at London College of Communication, UAL.

Titled ‘Biohacking for Designers’, the workshop was given to around twenty second and third year students of BA. Interaction and Moving Image.

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#1 HOW TO MAKE BACTERIA DO STUFF YOU WANT

Aim: To allow designers to explore concept of microbial manipulation. What are bacteria, why they are significant (in art and design, in addition to healthcare and food industry), and how we could start thinking of strategies to control their genetic makeup and/or environment to produce a (visible) output.

Method: Setting up a favourable environment for bacteria to produce luminescence or a glow.

#2 HOW TO GET DNA OUT OF EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING

Aim: To start a discussion about the basic units of life, and how they can be manifested into a tangible way in which can be visualised and manipulated. “DNA isn’t all about an invisible code that makes us who we are. It can be used as materials and media for exploration”.

Method: Taking a classic protocol of strawberry DNA extraction, this was extended to other fruits and vegetables, including blackberries, kiwis, grapes, potatoes and broccoli. Possibilities of applying the technique to mammalian and human samples (and even non living objects with bacterial presence) were discussed (and almost attempted!).

#3 HOW TO HACK WEBCAM INTO A MICROSCOPE

Aim: To think about using computing technology and combining it in biological and design contexts, using webcam as an example

Method: Cheap webcams modified into high-resolution (x100 – x200) microscopes and samples picked for observation. Possibilities of using microscope to produce film also discussed.

#4 ART AND CULTURE

Aim: To enable designers basic protocols and knowledge of setting up a starting culture to grow micro-organisms.

Method: Agar medium prepared and potential growth samples inoculated onto petri dishes.

#5 HALF PIPE OF DOOM

Aim: To open up a dialogue of social, cultural and political implications surrounding synthetic biology and biohacking.

Method: Debate using everyday examples. Also moving away from commonly used workhorses of biotechnology (bacteria and fungi) and explore other current (and potential) protagonists of the emerging technology. Pandas and flowers mentioned to name but a few.