BioBuilder: Synthetic Biology in the Lab

What is synthetic biology? What does a synthetic biologist do? From the first chapter of BioBuilder: Synthetic Biology in the Lab: "At the most basic level, synthetic biologists, or biobuilders, want to engineer living cells to do something useful; for example, treat a disease, sense a toxic compound in the environment, or produce a valuable drug."

Through the DIY Bio world, I became interested in synthetic biology. My first inkling that a designer could have an impact in this emerging technology, was when I sat in on Natalie Kuldell's "Picture This" bacterial photography lab at MIT (recounted on Genspace's blog) in the winter of 2013. Natalie is the president and founder of the Biobuilder Foundation, dedicated to converting "cutting-edge science and engineering into teachable modules, fostering an engaged community and increasing understanding of these fields." Since its inception in 2012, the BioBuilder curriculum has been adopted in academic institutions in over 42 states, thanks to Natalie and her dedicated team of BioBuilder Master Teachers.

Bacterial photography created by students at MIT

Bacterial photography created by students at MIT

After attending Natalie's workshop, I sought to create a graphic representation of the microbial process in addition to depicting the experience in the lab. This trip down the rabbit hole eventually led to an amazing collaboration that resulted in the book Buibuilder: Synthetic Biology in the Lab by Natalie Kuldell, Rachel Bernstein, Katie Hart, and myself.

My Illustrator drawing board; a midway view into the many months it took to decode and depict the microbial process that generates a bacterial photograph. The version that appeared in the book is in the header above.

My Illustrator drawing board; a midway view into the many months it took to decode and depict the microbial process that generates a bacterial photograph. The version that appeared in the book is in the header above.

The BioBuilder curriculum makes use of the engineering principles of Design, Build, Test in a series of five labs. Each readable lab includes the origin and purpose of the lab, as well as step-by-step lab protocols. BioBuilder is special in that it has four foundational chapters that cover what synthetic biology is, biodesign, DNA engineering, and importantly, bioethics. As one Amazon reviewer summarizes, "Rather than providing a biased view, the authors provide a much needed balanced view by going right to the source of some of the famous original debates (and the consequences) of the ethical issues. What is particularly compelling is their treatment of the reader as a mature person -- not as a consumer of an 8 second sound-byte (time between two commercials). Ethics of synbio is as complex as the science of synthetic biology itself, and they do a very good job in covering it."

Following the release of the book, the team of authors have endeavored to expand the BioBuilder curriculum from academia into DIY biotech labs, makerspaces, and art spaces and institutions. We've also launched an ethics experiment where participants can share their opinions on synthetic biology on a crowd-sourced mosaic. BioBuilder is ever evolving and there will no doubt be more to come.

 
BioBuilder: Synthetic Biology in the lab, O'Reilly, July 2015

BioBuilder: Synthetic Biology in the lab, O'Reilly, July 2015

 

#WheresBiobuilder

#wheresBiobuilder: with Bill Nye The Science guy

#wheresBiobuilder: with Bill Nye The Science guy

If you purchase a copy of Biobuilder, tweet at us using #WheresBioBuilder

 

"Are You a Synthusiast" Printed takeaway

"Are you a Synthusiast?" Yes? No? Maybe? People can share their opinion of genetically modified foods on a mosaic. See how they voted —»



"A concise and approachable introduction to synthetic biology. Beautifully designed to boot. Highly recommended."

William Myers, design writer. Author of Biodesign and Bio Art: Altered Realities 

 

Posters 

Posters were created to accompany each lab. High quality versions can be downloaded from O'Reilly's website.