A design proposal and python/processing-based prototype for a synthetic biology informed web browser; created with Jenny Rodenhouse.

Bacterial Browsing

Using python scripts and some processing, we created a semi-functional browser extension that uses something called “cookie swapping” to mimic the behaviors of bacteria and camouflage our own metadata. The cursor stirs up bacteria, each picking up specific pieces of metadata, which accumulates, and as the user travels through webpages are transplanted - undermining cookie tracking and metadata harvesting by advertisers and governments.

Impractical Applications for Metagermination by Marcus Guttenplan

Horizontal Gene Transfer

Working with Christina Agapakis, an external collaborator and practicing biologist, we took a four week dive into the wild world of synthetic biology. After a week of field research at the Salton Sea, visits to waste treatment plants and the California Nanosystems Institute at UCLA, and a day spent biohacking with the LA biohackers; we conducted hands-on workshops that informed our design proposal.

I was extremely drawn to the power of our personal “microbiome,” a gang of unevolved bacteria that live in our stomachs. The bacteria have a multitude of functions, anything from digestion and the prevention of diabetes to our disposition and outlook on life. Through “horizontal gene transfer,” a mode of biological sharing and adoption of DNA, our microbial friends are able to quickly adapt and survive in the harshest of climates: our stomachs. Moving forward, I’d like to continue working with browser extensions.

Impractical Applications for Metagermination by Marcus GuttenplanImpractical Applications for Metagermination by Marcus Guttenplan

Spreading Dis-Ease

From this foundation, I dove into the idea of “productive contagion,” enabling the everyman to affect the collective microbiome for the better. The idea that a rogue agent could actually create productive change just by wandering through the world fascinated me. But with so much chaos involved in the process of horizontal gene transfer and bacterial evolution, what kind of tools or systems could be envisioned to enable contagion?

I conducted an initial two-stage workshop with a few colleagues, really emphasizing the idea of “forced symbiosis.” The first part consisted of four people tied to one blindfolded person, with the blindfolded forced to attempt to catapult candy into tethered mouths. The second part reversed the situation, with five people tied together and all but one blindfolded. Puzzle pieces were strewn throughout the area, and the participants were required to attempt to assemble the pieces.