E. chromi: Living Colour from Bacteria

Project
2009

In collaboration with James King & the University of Cambridge iGEM 2009 team.

See also Limited Editions: E.chromi, The Scatalog.

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.

The Scatalog.

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.


ANIMATION CREDITS

Design: Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg & James King 
Animation: Cath Elliot (Little Giant Pictures)
Music: Matthew Irvine Brown
Illustration: Alice Hoult
Scatalog photography: Åsa Johannesson

 

CURRENT EXHIBITIONS

MAK Permanent Gallery
MAK
Vienna, Austria
May 28, 2019 - May 1, 2023

 

PAST EXHIBTIONS

Design + Science 2/2
Esther Klein Gallery, Science Center Philadelphia
Philadelphia, USA
February 1, 2020 - March 31, 2020

Design + Science 1/2
Uni of East Michigan
Michigan, USA
September 11, 2019 - Octorber 17, 2019

Better Nature
Vitra Design Gallery
Weil am Rhein, Germany
July 19, 2019 – November 24, 2019

Permanent collection  
Museo Delle Scienze,
Trento, Italy

Museum of Contemporary Art,
Tokyo, Japan

Science Gallery,
Dublin, Ireland

Fondation EDF,
Paris, France

Index Awards,
Asia tour

MoMA,
New York, USA

The National Museum of China,
Beijing, China

Design Museum,
London, UK

The Wellcome Trust,
London, UK

St Etienne Biennale Internationale Design,
St Etienne, France

 

AWARDS

Nomination,
Brit Insurance Designs of the Year,
2011

Finalist,
Index Awards,
2011

 

The Scatalog.

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.