The past few years have seen the field of synthetic biology (SynBio) mature and expand at a notable pace. The diverse backgrounds joining the field have contributed greatly to the advancements that are already affecting our everyday lives in ways that we might not even realize or expect. From bio-wearable systems for monitoring our health to custom-grown bone implants, low-cost fluid-handling robots, DNA hard drives, grown furniture, and city-scale biosensors, we are only beginning to see the tip of the iceberg! In the upcoming years, engineered living systems will become as ubiquitous as smart devices have become over the last decade. It is this vibrancy within the field that has captivated my interest and imagination.
I came into the Media Lab as a student in the City Science group with a background in robotics and artificial intelligence. My current work is focused on developing open source and community-based sensor systems. I use these systems for understanding human impact and behavior across multiple scales within the city. I’ve always felt that if we want to make our technologies as sustainable as our great challenges require, we need to not only be inspired by biology but embrace it as the cornerstone to our systems. Nature has evolved unique mechanisms for millions of years. It is essential to understand and use these mechanisms in order to create living environments for people that are more humane and able to interact sustainably with the natural environment.
With this in mind, I’ve spent some time at the Media Lab understanding ways in which I can incorporate synthetic biology into my research and into the vision that my group has for future urban spaces. In addition, I’ve come to realize that as we develop any technology, we must look into ways in which we can democratize not only its use and impact but also its development. These were all driving forces that steered me into taking the How To Grow (Almost) Anything course led by David Kong, Joseph Jacobson, and George Church. The course stood out to me as a unique opportunity to learn about the key technical and social aspects of SynBio.