Biological Inks

w/ Awesome Foundation (2010)

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I explored the use of bacteria to produce biological fluorescent inks by genetically modifying the E. coli to produce a range of fluorescent proteins. This work was supported by an Awesome Foundation fellowship as one of their very first funded projects. This project was part of a thinking process where I was trying to determine how synthetic biology and modern bioeningeering techniques could change the way we think about certain products in the world. Today, technology is generally made to be reliable, irrespective of time. A "living" alternative may not give us such flexibility, instead providing us with "windows" of time in which our technology is indeed effective. This raises a fundamental question as to where these technologies can be applied and which expectations should be set for technologies that come out of this space.

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This project was also conceived to look at the role of the medium in conveying human thought. By having bacteria as ink, we create a written expression system where the medium itself is living. Because the words are composed of growing organisms with their own goals of growth, we expect to see the thought/message morph into different shapes than that of letters carrying meaning. Much like Plato's cave allegory, the project's goal was to bring into light (pun intended) the implicit biases and subjectiveness that we have. By inserting an extraneous living organism --together with its intentions and goals-- into the medium of expression, I wanted to highlight the fact that we --as Humans-- are but a mere collection of organisms. In fact, we have in our guts and throughout our body roughly 10x more bacteria than Human cells. Even though in this frame of thought, it isn't fully apparent what determines the Human nature of "Human cells".

Plato's cave allegory

Plato's Cave Allegory. Are the projected shadows true/real? The prisoners who have spent their entire lives knowing only the shadows would take the shadows for real people, they would not have access to the truth -in Plato's meaning of the word- to know that the shadows are mere reflections of puppets. With this project of making bacteria express colour to turn the culture into an "ink", I wanted to highlight the philosophical concept of language being a limiting factor when transmitting thought. In fact, language is a collection of words and structures agreed upon by people who share that language. However, a thought is complex and multidimentional concept often much larger than the subset of words at your disposal. Therefore, when expressing a thought through language one alters it to fit the convention of the words. In speech however, no living being other than the speaker alters that expression of thought.


© Charles Fracchia