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, der am 8. März 2023 am Gottlieb Duttweiler Institut stattfindet. Zum Thema Biophilia: When Nature Becomes the New Tech zeigen ExpertInnen, wie sich das Verständnis von Natur und die Beziehung zu ihr verändern. Wir präsentieren neue Erkenntnisse aus der Forschung und die spannendsten Startups der Bioökonomie. Jetzt anmelden!

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