E. chromi is an early collaboration between artists/designers and scientists in the emerging field of synthetic biology. In 2009, seven Cambridge University undergraduates spent the summer genetically engineering bacteria to secrete a variety of coloured pigments, visible to the naked eye. They designed standardised sequences of DNA, called BioBricks™, and inserted them into E. coli bacteria. Each BioBrick™ part contains genes from existing organisms, enabling the bacteria to produce a colour. By combining these with other BioBricks™, bacteria could be programmed to do tasks for humans. Their invention, which they called E. chromi, won the Grand Prize at the 2009 International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM).
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and designer James King worked with the team, while they developed the technology in the lab. They explored different agendas, not necessarily all desirable, that could shape the use of a foundational technology like E. chromi and in turn, our everyday lives. The Scatalog imagines using it for cheap, personalised disease monitoring. Engineered bacteria, ingested in yoghurt, would colonise our gut, keeping watch for the chemical markers of diseases. If disease is detected, the bacteria produce an easy-to-read warning by colouring your poo. The Scatalog was made as a tool for critical discourse in synthetic biology and was first presented at iGEM in 2009. Since 2009, this critical fiction became a goal for synthetic biologists, with engineered probiotics now in testing.
Design: Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg & James King
Animation: Cath Elliot (Little Giant Pictures)
Music: Matthew Irvine Brown
Illustration: Alice Hoult
Scatalog photography: Åsa Johannesson
MAK Permanent Gallery,
May 28, 2019 - May 1, 2023
Design + Science 2/2
Esther Klein Gallery, Science Center Philadelphia
February 1, 2020 - March 31, 2020
Design + Science 1/2
Uni of East Michigan
September 11, 2019 - Octorber 17, 2019
Vitra Design Gallery
Weil am Rhein, Germany
July 19, 2019 – November 24, 2019
Museo Delle Scienze,
Museum of Contemporary Art,
New York, USA
The National Museum of China,
The Wellcome Trust,
St Etienne Biennale Internationale Design,
St Etienne, France
Brit Insurance Designs of the Year,
E. coli expressing Violacein. Photo at Cambridge iGEM, 2009.
The Cambridge iGEM team with Tom Knight. Photo: iGEM/David Appleyard, 2009.
The Scatalog at Alive! Fondation EDF, 2013.