Christina Agapakis

Christina Agapakis is a synthetic biologist whose research explores the role of design, ecology, and evolution in biological engineering. Her scientific work spans many scales, from proteins to plants to microbial communities. Through collaboration with biologists, engineers, artists, and designers, she pushes the boundaries of synthetic biology from the strict view of cells as computational devices to a more fluid understanding of the function and evolution of living things. In addition to her research and teaching in biological engineering and design, she explores the social and ethical dimensions of biological engineering through writing and film. Having recently completed her Ph.D. at Harvard University, she is cur- rently a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a 2012 L'Oreal USA For Women in Science fellow.

Sissel Tolaas

With a background in mathematics, chemical science, linguistics and languages, and visual art, Sissel Tolaas has dedicated herself to Nose /Smell in all levels of life for more than twenty years. She has an archive of 6730 smells from reality, plus a lab archive of 2500 molecules. Sissel's knowledge and expertise is in simulation – simulation through synthetic molecules – the air and smells that surround us all the time, from body sweat or smells from hardcore neighbourhoods. Her aim is and ask questions, train tolerance and train awareness. To do this Sissel works internationally, interdisciplinarily and collaboratively. Her work is about making systems of smells as a basis for communication, used for the purposes of navigation, education, design, architecture, health care, and environment. Sissel has exhibited at SFMOMA, San Francisco; MOMA, New York; the Guggenheim, Venice and Berlin; Museum of Modern Art, Berlin; National Art Museum of China, Beijing; biennales in Berlin, Venice, Tirana, Gwangju, Liverpool. Recent awards include the Rouse Foundation Award 2009, Harvard Graduate School of Design and an ArsElectronica Award 2010.
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"Selfmade" human cheese at Grow Your Own… Life After Nature

Christina Agapakis and Sissel Tolaas' "Selfmade" project, featuring a selection of human cheeses, was exhibited at the Grow Your Own... Life After Nature at the Science Gallery, Dublin, Ireland (October 25 2013 to January 19 2014). The public were invited to open fridges containing the cheeses, and smell the individual microbial portraits for themselves. The cheeses came from the body bacteria of a diverse group, including food writer Michael Pollan, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, cheese scientist Ben Dutton and artist Olafur Eliasson. The project was widely discussed in the international media. 

Christina and Sissel say: "We not only live in a biological world surrounded by rich communities of microorganisms, but in a cultural world that emphasises total antisepsis. The intersection of our interests in smell and microbial communities led us to focus on cheese as a ‘model organism’. Many of the stinkiest cheeses are hosts to species of bacteria closely related to the bacteria responsible for the characteristic smells of human armpits or feet. Can knowledge and tolerance of bacterial cultures in our food improve tolerance of the bacteria on our bodies? How do humans cultivate and value bacterial cultures on cheeses and fermented foods? How will synthetic biology change with a better understanding of how species of bacteria work together in nature as opposed to the pure cultures of the lab?"

 

 

Photo: Science Gallery.

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UdK Award for Sissel Tolaas and Christina Agapakis

Synthetic Aesthetics Residents Christina Agapakis and Sissel Tolaas won an award from UdK, the Universität der Künste, Berlin for their art and science collaboration on human body cheese. Congratulations to our residents for their continuing collaboration!

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A culture of cheese - Sissel Tolaas at the World Science Festival

Sissel Tolaas was a speaker at the World Science Festival in New York in June, discussing her Synthetic Aesthetics collaboration with Christina Agapakis. Sissel says, "Smell is one of those senses where context can play a huge role. A fine cheese and a dirty foot share the same molecular smells, yet one is a delicacy and other is repulsive."

For their BO_BAD_CHE project, Christina and Sissel collected bacteria from people and used it to make 'human' cheese. "We decided to focus on cheese as a metaphor for the human organism", explains Sissel. These personalised dairy products challenge the old adage of "we are what we eat", and the boundary between what we make and who we are. Their collaboration continues: most recently, at the SB5.0 conference at Stanford in June they ran a live cheese-making session, building a library of cheeses made from bacterial cultures swabbed from the global synthetic biology community. 

 

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Cheese Smell Adventure

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"This is basic science that's really, really interesting because if bacteria can really smell, that's something unexpected."
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23/03/2012 – 20:37 – Lestheprof said:
Is it? Bacteria need to be able to move towards nutrients, etc, to swim in the direction of increasing concentrations of chemicals. Consider surface molecules over the extent of the bacterium, responding differentially to varying concentrations...mind you, considering the size of bacteria, the delta but be *really* small ...
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