Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Biobricks and Crocheted Coral: Dispatches from the Life Sciences in the Age of Fabrication

  • Sophia Roosth (a1)

What does “life” become at a moment when biological inquiry proceeds by manufacturing biological artifacts and systems? In this article, I juxtapose two radically different communities, synthetic biologists and Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef crafters (HCCR). Synthetic biology is a decade-old research initiative that seeks to merge biology with engineering and experimental research with manufacture. The HCCR is a distributed venture of three thousand craftspeople who cooperatively fabricate a series of yarn and plastic coral reefs to draw attention to the menace climate change poses to the Great Barrier and other reefs. Interpreting these two groups alongside one another, I suggest that for both, manufacturing biological artifacts advances their understandings of biology: in a rhetorical loop, they build new biological things in order to understand the things they are making. The resulting fabrications condense scientific and folk theories about “life” and also undo “life” as a coherent analytic object.

Hide All
Ernesto Andrianantoandro , Subhayu Basu , David K. Karig , and Ron Weiss . 2006. “Synthetic Biology: New Engineering Rules for an Emerging Discipline.” Molecular Systems Biology 2:114.

George M Church . 2005. “Let Us Go Forth and Safely Multiply.” Nature 438 (7067):423.

Troy Duster . 2003. Backdoor to Eugenics. New York: Routledge.

Sarah Franklin . 1997. Embodied Progress: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception. New York: Routledge.

Sarah Franklin . 2007. Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy. Durham: Duke University Press.

Daniel Gibson , Gwynedd Benders et al.2008. “Complete Chemical Synthesis, Assembly, and Cloning of a Mycoplasma Genitalium Genome.” Science 319 (5867):12151220.

François Jacob . 1993. The Logic of Life: A History of Heredity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Evelyn Fox Keller . 2008. “Organisms, Machines, and Thunderstorms: A History of Self-Organization, Part One.” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 38 (1):4575.

Evelyn Fox Keller . 2009. “What Does Synthetic Biology Have to Do with Biology?BioSocieties 4 (2):291302.

Christopher Kelty , and Hannah Landecker . 2004. “A Theory of Animation: Cells, L-systems, and Film.” Grey Room 17:3063.

Christopher Kelty . 2008. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham: Duke University Press.

Hannah Landecker . 2007. Culturing Life: How Cells Became Technologies. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Manfred Laubichler . 2000. “The Organism is Dead. Long Live the Organism!Perspectives on Science 8 (3):286315.

Filippa Lentzos . 2009. “Synthetic Biology in the Social Context: The UK Debate to Date.” BioSocieties 4 (2):303315.

Adrian Mackenzie . 2010. “Design in Synthetic Biology.” BioSocieties 5 (2):180198.

Maureen A O'Malley . 2009. “Making Knowledge in Synthetic Biology: Design Meets Kludge.” Biological Theory 4 (4):378389.

Andrew Pickering . 2010. The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Priscilla E.M. Purnick , and Ron Weiss . 2009. “The Second Wave of Synthetic Biology: From Modules to Systems.” Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 10 (6):410422.

Paul Rabinow , and Gaymon Bennett . 2008. “From Bioethics to Human Practices, or Assembling Contemporary Equipment.” In Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience, edited by Beatriz da Costa , 389400. Cambridge MA: MIT Press/Leonardo Books.

Dae-Kyun Ro et al.2006. “Production of the Antimalarial Drug Precursor Artemisinic Acid in Engineered Yeast.” Nature 440 (7086):940943.

Steven Shapin . 1988. “The House of Experiment in Seventeenth-Century England.” Isis 79 (3):373404.

Charis Thompson . 2005. Making Parents: The Ontological Choreography of Reproductive Technologies. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Edward Palmer Thompson 1971. “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century.” Past & Present 50:76136.

Francisco Varela , Humberto Maturana , and Ricardo Uribe . 1974. “Autopoiesis: The Organization of Living Systems, Its Characterization and a Model.” BioSystems 5:187196.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Science in Context
  • ISSN: 0269-8897
  • EISSN: 1474-0664
  • URL: /core/journals/science-in-context
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 2
Total number of PDF views: 33 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 251 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 17th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.