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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.

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