Team:UNAM Genomics Mexico/HumanPractices/BiosintetizarteEN




Call (Spanish)






This year we implemented for the second time our Science and Art competition BioSintetizARTE which this year was promoted nationally through a call on La Jornada, one of Mexico's leading daily newspapers. We are delighted to announce that the nationwide call resulted in 42 works, four times the amount we had last year.

We decided to make the call for a second time because we believe artist have the ability to put into their works those things that are difficult to put into words. As it was stated last year:

"(...) artistic disciplines break the boundaries and expand further to form hybrids of art and technology, science or anthropology, fusions that stand out. It is important to emphasize that art is a reflection of the events that occur in society and of the thinking that takes place at different times in history.
Art is the universal language that allows us to express the invisible, the inexplicable, the intuitive, the inexistent. It presents itself as a way that helps us to diffuse the Synthetic Biology essence, but it goes beyond that, it takes place in this revolution when it transmits its message back to scientist and to the society."

What is the power of Science seen through the artists' eyes? Through the artists' creations, we want to recognize ourselves. Even though it is through that one part of the artists’ perception is a very personal matter, it is evident that there is also an influence of the historical and social context in any given piece of art that might shed light into the things that are at stake with the theme of the work of art. This means that through the works presented at BioSintetizARTE we could infer what kind of things are at stake with the things we do in Synthetic Biology, seen through the eyes of the most sensitive members of our society.

Acknowledging that we all share a time and space that knit us all together in a shared identity, an identity that could be described with the words of the writer and futurists Alvin Toffler: we are all "immigrants towards the future". BioSintetizARTE serves as a way to register the fears, hopes, and expectations that Synthetic Biology raises within the people we are traveling with to the future.

What have we learnt from the submissions to our project BioSintetizARTE?

The descriptions of the artistic works submitted to the contest have given us a great insight into the popular imaginary around Synthetic Biology. These descriptions served as a parting point for us to analyze the set of beliefs and attitudes that the general public had about Synthetic Biology. The categories we used are fears, hopes, and hypes. Fears represent concerns about the use and misuse of the technology; hopes are positive expectations about the benefits of the technology; hypes are the expectations that we consider to be more philosophical, metaphorical, or simply unrealistic to count as part of the other two categories, but that ultimately might reflect any of those in an exacerbated way. Some of the most illustrative insights about what we learnt from our artists are discussed below.


The first category of beliefs and attitudes we analyzed and discussed are the fears posed by Synthetic Biology. Works that expressed fears or reservations about the potential uses of this technology include the works presented by Harumi Hiroshi. In the descriptions for the work "Planta Madre" ("Mother plant"), we found one of the most basic and common reservations about our work: Synthetic biology seems a very exciting area of research because it’s not only know and analyze the existing agencies but is also to have the power to create new ones, the ability to play being God, or maybe not, because this is not a game. Similarly, in the work "Y en el principio Dios..." ("And in the beginning God..."), we find again the fear that we are playing (or indeed, not playing at all) with something as deeply cherished and valued as live, and its creation.


Some artists expressed explicitly their hopes for the future, that might be achieved through Synthetic Biology. Take for example Francesca Dalla's work, where she describes her work as "a metaphor for a future hope. It is my vision of a world where different species stop fighting each other, where the man puts aside its sovereignty over the animal world, to get to their side, at the same height and level, to merge into one being.".

The work from Juan Manuel Vazquez also presents itself as a hope to direct our evolution through Synthetic Biology. He expressed in the description of his work that "one of the main goals of synthetic biology, achieve transformation of ourselves to have better biological characteristics and to face the changes that always occur in nature without having to wait for natural selection to do its job". Similarly, Erick Flores's work shares this expectation about a better mankind through Synthetic Biology, with a powerful analogy between the creation of Adam and Molecular Biology: "Personally I see synthetic biology as the tip of an enormous range of possibilities that will give human tools and solutions to improve your life, but more importantly correct mistakes we made with our environment. Synthetic biology is a turning point in the sciences, perhaps a revolution that will change how we see life and our environment."

Another example might be found in Jonathan Padilla's work, who considers that "applications of synthetic biology are legion and range from detection and degradation of toxic compounds in the environment, the creation of biofuels, to the generation of medicines and bioremediation to return an altered environment by pollution to its natural condition, creating undoubtedly a better world."


Take for example the three works submitted by the participant Karen Elias, who presented three works: "Alimentos Transgénicos" ('"Transgenic foods"'), "Human Tree", and "Instrumento Humano" ("Human Instrument"). These works might be interpreted as the fear that Synthetic Biology will be able to facilitate the creation and production of transgenic organisms for human consumption where new favours would be achieved, or the Instrumentalization of human beings as musical instruments. While the perceptions and descriptions of the work do not appear to be of fear in this case, it might be also interpreted as a nuance in the discussion of instrumentalization of nature and our bodies: perhaps there might be some sorts of instrumentalization of our world that would turn to have interesting an noble results, i.e., new flavors and music. Nevertheless, there is also a call for prudence within her hyped expectations. "Human tree" might be interpreted as an invitation to treat nature as if it was an expression of our very nature, of ourselves.

This instrumentalization of humanity took a different interpretation for Maria Angélica Bravo's work in which an analogy of "transgenic gummy bears" represents the hyped fear about an army of individuals that could be used for bad purposes (perhaps influenced by Star Wars's Clone Wars and several other influences from popular culture).

Another of these cautionary tales comes from the artist Ana Karen Mojica. In her work, "Mujer fotosintética" ("Photosynthetic woman") she acknowledges the abuse we have made as species of our environment, stating that "In a world where humans have endeavored to destroy everything around us, science seems to be our only salvation, if I could use synthetic biology for something I would create humans able to photosynthesize, this way helping our planet be a better place". While it can be considered as fantastic or hyped the desire to create a photosynthesizing human, the intention to use science and Synthetic Biology as a way out to have a solution to the current environmental crisis struck us as a very positive attitude.

Interpretations that reflect a deep understanding of Synthetic Biology

Lastly, but not least importantly, we also had some of our colleagues participating with their artistic impressions. As expected, these works might not reflect a deeper perception of the general public, but serve as an example of a way to interpret their own work in a different way (outside of the box of routine!).

The works we liked the most are those by Rebeca Borges, who expressed in a very colorful way the need for standardization of plasmids; also, Mario Sandoval's work struck us as a way to contextualize things: Synthetic Biology appears to be a way to achieve new ways to produce things, but we might be currently neglecting our natural bioechemical factories for compounds we could use in a sustainable way.


BioSintetizARTE has helped us understand a little bit more what people are thinking, and this has certainly helped us into the design of the rest of the other components of our project. To learn how we incorporated all the insights into our talks, go to that section clicking here.