Bio-Intelligent Species is a collaborative project, between the Royal College of Art, RCA-IIS Tokyo Design Lab and Ikeuchi Lab, that explores the potential futures of synthetically created neurons. Working with a group of students at the RCA we embarked on a design exploration into the creation of new, intelligent species. The project concluded with an exhibition and symposium at the Royal College of Art on the 16th May. During this project I designed the species Polyfera — see below for details.
Project completed with Audrey Ma, Andrew Edwards, Pierro D'Angelo, Davin Browner Conaty.
Polyfera, like existing sea sponges, are filter feeders. They pass large quantities of water through their bodies everyday. Polyfera harnesses the pre-existing symbiosis between sea sponges and bacteria that live within its walls— Polyfera co-exists with bacteria that has been genetically modified to release the enzymes PET-ase and MHETs to break down any microplastics it filters.
As microplastics enter the pores, the bacteria releases PETase to initialise the breakdown of the polymers. This enzyme release is detected by sensory neurons contained in the controlled environment of the core of the sponge. The sensory neurons then release the secondary enzyme MHETs to further break down the polymers. The bacteria contains the GPF protein that causes it emit fluorescent light. Higher levels of micro plastics result in higher levels of bacteria thus causing the sponge to “glow” brighter — a visual signal to humans of microplastic levels.
Exhibition and Symposium
The work produced in the collaboration was displayed in an exhibition at the Royal College of Art in London. On the opneing night a Symposium was held to discuss the collaboration and the ethics of synthetic biology. The discussion panel included guest speakers Helene Steiner, Dr Ronald Jones, Yui Nakanishi (from the Ikeushi Lab) and Zowie Broach. The exhibition is now travelling to Japan, where it will be on display at the Design Lab.