The Field of Synthetic Biology Runs on Speculative Fiction

„I wanna deliver a dolphin.“ Image: Ai Hasegawa
Gene editing and new biological engineering techniques have allowed our minds to run wild: In the last few years, we’ve seen proposals to build North Face jackets out of synthesized spider silk, grow human organs within pigs for transplantation, de-extinct long dead animals, and use animal-human “hybrid organs” to prevent or treat disease. We’ve seen projects proposing leather made from humans, lab-grown, cruelty-free meat, and have begun to grapple with a future that might include both real dragons and DIY pathogens cooked up in someone’s basement.

By Jason Koebler | MOTHERBOARD

Biofabricate, a synthetic biology conference held in Manhattan on Thursday, began with the message that journalists must be careful not to sensationalize an art project that used real science to look at whether it’d one day be possible for a human woman to give birth to an endangered dolphin.

“I think it’s very important to get projects like this out into mainstream press, but then you have clickbait, and these projects lend themselves to sensationalization,” Anthony Dunne, a professor of design and emerging technology at Parsons, told the crowd at the Biofabricate conference Tuesday. “There’s a tendency for these projects to be hyperrealistic so they can suspend disbelief, but once it moves into the media it loses reference and framing.”

That journalists shouldn’t say humans-having-dolphin-babies is right around the corner is a point well taken. But this idea that journalists should not sensationalize artists’ work extends back to scientists, many of whom say that artists shouldn’t sensationalize their work, either.

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