EventMarch 16 2017

Synthetic Biology

6:00 pm
Data & Society

RSVP here.

In the early 2000s, a group of scientists from outside mainstream biology proposed that they would make living things behave like computers. They would treat DNA like command code; they would make cells behave with Boolean logic; and ultimately they would make life programmable. They called their field synthetic biology. Since its inception, synthetic biology has influenced the practice biological research, current understanding of biological systems, and the biotech economy— by 2019 the global synthetic biology market is projected to be worth $13.4 billion.


The Biotech Futures Talk + Lab Series explores the implications of and ways in which biology is becoming a data science. Each talk is paired with a 3-4 hour lab workshop at Genspace for Data & Society and Genspace community members to demonstrate how these themes become realized in the lab.

Find out about Sat, 3/25’s related lab here!


Tom Knight spent most of his career teaching computer science and electrical engineering at MIT, before playing the major role in creating the engineering discipline of synthetic biology. In 1996 he seeded interest in the field at DARPA, and built a molecular biology laboratory in the MIT computer science department. He developed important standards for engineering biological systems, specifically Biobricks, the first standard assembly technique for functional DNA components, and in establishing the MIT Registry of Standard Biological Parts.

He was one of four founders of IGEM, an international competition between undergraduate teams to design and build biological systems, now hosting 300 teams across the globe. In 2008, he co-founded Ginkgo Bioworks, where he remains a full time researcher. His interests include minimal organisms, origins of life, and predictive models of biological systems. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a director of the IGEM Foundation, and member of the International Committee on the Taxonamy of the Mollicutes.

Christina Agapakis is creative director of Ginkgo Bioworks, a biological design company growing cultured products for partners across many industries. Her work brings together biologists, engineers, designers, artists, and social scientists to explore the future of biotechnology. During her PhD at Harvard, she worked on producing hydrogen fuel in bacteria and making photosynthetic animals. She has taught designers at the Art Center College of Design and biomolecular engineers at UCLA, and she once made cheese using bacteria from the human body.


Daniel Grushkin is co-founder and Executive Director of Genspace, a nonprofit community laboratory dedicated to promoting citizen science and access to biotechnology. Fast Company ranked Genspace fourth among the top 10 most innovative education companies in the world. He founded the Biodesign Challenge, an international university competition that asks students to envision future applications of biotech.
Daniel is a Fellow at Data & Society. From 2013-2014, he was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars where he researched synthetic biology. He was an Emerging Leader in Biosecurity at the UPMC Center of Health Security in 2014. As a journalist, he has reported on the intersection of biotechnology, culture, and business for publications including Bloomberg Businessweek, Fast Company, Scientific American and Popular Science.


Genspace is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting science literacy through citizen access to biotechnology. It provides educational outreach, cultural events, and a platform for science innovation at the grassroots level. Genspace values cross-disciplinary practices and the significance of creating an environment in which designers, artists, and scientists can exchange new methodologies and practices, and provide a platform for collaborations, innovations, and critical dialogue.

Data & Society is a research institute in New York City focused on social, cultural, and ethical issues arising from data-centric technological development. To advance public understanding of the issues, Data & Society brings together diverse constituencies, hosts events, does directed research, creates policy frameworks, and builds demonstration projects that grapple with the challenges and opportunities of a data-soaked world. Data & Society weaves together researchers, entrepreneurs, activists, policy creators, journalists, geeks, and public intellectuals to debate and engage one another on the key issues.

Contact CJ Brody Landow ([email protected]) for more details.