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The Living Factory

The Living Factory

Carole Collet

January 2014

Central Saint Martins, Textile Futures Research Centre (TFRC) and InCrops are holding an evening of talks and discussion on the opportunities, risks and challenges associated with designing and manufacturing with synthetic biology horizon 2050.

The word factory conjures up very specific images, but what if in future a factory resembled a greenhouse? Synthetic biology is an emerging science which allows us to reprogram living organisms with the purpose of generating custom-made materials. Bacteria and algae are re-programmed to produce biofuel or silk, yeast is engineered to make vanilla flavour. Still in its infancy, this science is fast developing and is often presented as a technology which can help us face future sustainable challenges, such as how to produce enough food for 9 billion people, how to develop efficient carbon capture technologies to combat climate change, or even how to use synthetic organisms for bio remediation. The promises of synthetic biology could mean that we need to revise our ideas of how we design and manufacture in the decades to come. In 2012, only two years after the first synthetic cell was officially created by Craig Venter and his team in the USA, the UK government has acknowledged synthetic biology as one of the “Eight Key Technologies” which will receive major investments in the next few years.

Today, it is estimated that as a global population we are using the equivalent resource of 1.5 planet and are therefore exploiting natural resources beyond their ability to regenerate. This is not sustainable, especially in the context of an expanding global population which will reach 9.6 billion in 2050 according to the United Nations. Energy, food, and access to clean water as well as climate change are foreseen to become dominant challenges for our everyday lives. The focus of the evening is to question whether we can ‘technologise’ our way out of our environmental crisis with synthetic biology. Have we reached a point of no return, whereby synthetic biology, an extreme form of genetic manipulation, can be promoted as a champion of sustainability? This event proposes a 360° review of this disruptive technology in the context of designing a positively sustainable future and aims at fostering a debate amongst biologists, policy makers, designers and manufacturers.

Via a series of expert talks, we will introduce the concept of synthetic biology as an emerging ‘disruptive technology’, and examine the consequence of moving from ‘manufacture to biofacture’, and in particular the sustainable and ethical issues that surround the idea of engineering a living factory.

This symposium will pose the following critical questions:
What are the risks and ethics of developing synthetic biology? (Including risks and ethics of open source biology)

What are the advantages and disadvantages of synthetic biology in the context of future manufacturing? Why should manufacturers be more aware of synthetic biology?

What might be the timeline from laboratory to manufacture? When can we foresee the development of mainstream materials produced with synthetic biology?

Can we ‘technologise’ our way out of our environmental crisis with synthetic biology?
There is a sustainable paradox: synthetic biology is often presented as means to address key environmental issues, such as energy and food security, yet it is a form of extreme genetic engineering. To what extend can synthetic biology claim to lead to a more sustainable future?

Thursday, 23 January 2014, 6.30 pm (doors open 6pm)

6.00: Doors open
6.30: Introduction, Carole Collet (TFRC Deputy Director) and Dr Liliya Serazetdinova (Programme Manager, InCrops)
6.40: Dr Jim Haseloff, Haseloff Lab, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
7.00: Natsai Chieza, Designer and Researcher, TFRC
7.20: Dr Belinda Clarke, Lead Technologist for Synthetic Biology, Technology Strategy Board
7.35: Suzanne Lee, Design Director, Biocouture, London
8.00: Q&A with the panellists joined by Dr Liliya Serazetdinova, chaired by Carole Collet
8.30: Drinks
9.30: Close

Ania Stawarska
0207 513 8378

LVMH Lecture Theatre
Central Saint Martins
Granary Square
London N1C 4AA
Tube: Kings Cross

Image Credit: Streptomyces coelicolor is ‘trained’ to develop varied hues of pigment by tweaking the nutrient recipe integral to its ability to thrive. Faber Futures, Natsai Audrey Chieza & Professor John Ward, 2013


Central Saint Martins

Central Saint Martins


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