Multicoloured turds and feet bacteria: how synthetic biology is making us think differently
Self-healing concrete, tissue printers or plastic-eating bacteria: these are breakthroughs in synthetic biology. Christina Agapakis, creative director of Ginkgo Bioworks, is a pioneer in this field. In a video, she explains why a suitcase full of poop got her career off the ground.
10 November, 2022 by
Multicoloured turds and feet bacteria: how synthetic biology is making us think differently
GDI Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute
 

It was at a genetic engineering competition more than ten years ago that Christina Agapakis met the British artist and designer Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. In the Cambridge researcher’s hands: a suitcase that could have contained the atomic codes. Instead, inside were multicoloured piles of poop. The Cambridge team had genetically reprogrammed E. coli bacteria to react to certain factors in their environment and produce colours. As a result, the colour of intestinal excretions became a health monitor.

That was the starting point for her own career, says Agapakis. In her dissertation, she cultivated edible cheese from bacteria between her toes. Yes, all this sounds disgusting at first, but the aim is to encourage people to rethink the way they perceive the microbial world.

Today, Agapakis is creative director of Ginkgo Bioworks. The company specialises in the genetic engineering of bacteria for industrial applications and is listed as an ‘Organism Company’ on the New York Stock Exchange. In this TED Talk, Agapakis describes her work in synthetic biology – a multidisciplinary field of research at the intersection of molecular biology, organic chemistry, engineering, nanobiotechnology and information technology.

Agapakis will be speaking at the 19th European Trend Day, which will take place on 8 March 2023 at the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute. Under the theme Biophilia: When Nature Becomes the New Tech, experts will discuss how they find the basic technologies in nature that change society and the economy. At the conference, we will present new findings from research and the most exciting start-ups in the bioeconomy. Sign up now!

 
 



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