The first few days there was a lot of confusion about what exactly had to be done. The only knowledge I had was that it was something to do with synthetic biology. Now what exactly synthetic biology was...I had no idea. I was just familiar with the term biology. We started by seeing videos on cells and talked about various scientists, some of which I already knew about from my past knowledge about biology. In a week things had become clearer and now we were familiar with almost all the terms and terminologies related to biology.
Does lying about things do us any good? What if there was something which could immediately detect our lie?? What if our body could change colour depending on our moods?? These were the questions that came to me while I was thinking about my bacteria. So I came up with these bacteria which could detect a person’s lie and his state of nervousness by changing the person’s skin colour. I named it coloreria. While doing this I learnt a lot about the functioning of bacteria. Other things that interested me were the various mechanisms involved in the melanin formation and I was also fascinated by the fact that these bacteria can make people dark and light skinned based on their moods.To know more about the functioning of coloreria visit the link: coloreria
The day was spent in modifying our ideas on our hypothetical bacteria. The most interesting part of creating the bacteria was thinking about a mechanism for it to work. It was more like making it work on my own terms. It was interesting to add more features to the bacteria and decide their usability! While thinking about this there were other things that conquered my mind as well. It was the way society accepts colour. Every society has tended to assign some valuation to skin colour differences, especially when these have corresponded with existing economic and political differentiations.
Thinking of a machine....that could perform any abstract function was one of the tasks of the day. What will the machine do? How will it function? Why not make a machine that keeps eve teasers away? So we thought of a machine which could push back the eve teasers. We thought of a machine which can be attached to the intestine. So it absorbs a part of the waste while it passes through the intestine. Whenever any human with the machine in its intestine feels insecure the machine starts decaying the waste and it comes out of the body in the form of bad stink which pushes the eve teasers away.
Things are still not clear and we are thinking on making another hypothetical machine. Thought process was still going on...we were brainstorming on creating another machine and modifying our previous ideas. So why not make something that can act as a life saver. So I got stuck with the idea of an oxygen recycler. This is basically a machine which will extract oxygen from the plants during the day and store it so that it can be used later for a lot of other life saving purposes.
I started thinking about my sculpture in which we are asked to grow something that lives for a period of 2-3 months.So i thought of growing fungi. Now the next step was to think about how to grow it.I thought of growing them on fruits.Now the ideation is done...only implementation is left!
Today we went to the national centre for biological sciences. I had always dreamt of working in a place like ncbs. The place fascinated me a lot. It is quite a fancy place. We then had a huge discussion on whether government should spend that much of money on places like these or not. During lunch we met a very interesting person who is an educator and discussed with him the positives and negatives of the present system of education. He was quite curious to know that why we all being design students are taking part in a competition like igem. So there was one discussion after the other and it went on for quite a long time. So the day was given to discussions. Then we were introduced to the labs and the different microscopes in ncbs. We met a few people who quite willingly talked about their research work in ncbs.We saw a fly brain under a specialized microscope and saw the way all this information is read digitally.
Now that we had our basic knowledge about biology, it was time to know about some artists. We read about Stelarc and Orlan. I quite liked Orlan’s work. Her idea of Carnal Art is quite fascinating. It is a very unique way to put things across as it uses her body as a language. I think that she tried to change ideas of feminism by doing such experiments on herself. Her digital hybrids try to break the barriers of gender, caste, colour and creed.She treated her skin as the most treasured organ and experimented with it.By experimenting with her skin she tried to change the concept of beauty.
I started working on my sculpture today.I got fruits like papaya and sapota and left them to decay.I have cut papaya into pieces and then left it for decaying whereas sapota has been kept as it is.
Today we read about Adam Zeretsky , Petricia Piccinni and Eduardo Kac. Out of these artists Petricia Piccinni’s work fascinated me the most. I think she has tried to challenge the stereotypical mindsets with her work like by using an ugly looking old mermaid, rat like creatures coming out of the bum, breasts at the back and a lot more things like these. I really like the way she has created a beautiful relation between the ugly and the beautiful. Like in one of her works she displays a very beautiful relation between a small boy and an old ugly fish like creature.
It has been four days since i have started working on my sculpture. The papaya that i had kept has ripened fully and now it has started decaying. I can see some black fungi growing on the outer body of the papaya. The sapota has decayed and has become black and loose to touch. The fruits have started stinking. In a few days the fruits will start stinking even more and even the sight of it will disgust me. I hope it turns out the way I want it to.
Today we started with our first experiment. We tried to grow yeast in the lab. We used different techniques to grow yeast. In one of them we used dry yeast pallets in agar water and left the yeast to grow in the lab for 2 days. The process of growing yeast was quite interesting. Since I have worked in a lab earlier, I was familiar with all the lab equipments and the precautions that had to be taken care of while working. It was fun to work in the lab after a long time.
We started our day by attending a talk in the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) on the theory of evolution given by Charles Darwin. It was quite an interesting talk. It basically presented the views of different theologians and scientists on the theory of evolution. A lot of people questioned the theory and believed that there exists a creator (God) who creates the living species. They tried to explain their point with interesting examples like that of an eye. According to some of them, the eye being a very complicated sense organ can only be the role of a creator. While there were others who did not believe in the concept of a creator at all. According to them even a complicated organ like the eye has been evolved through the process of evolution. They believed that eye initially had a very simple structure but due to the requirement of the successive generations , different features have been added to the eye by the process of evolution which has made it a complex organ. It was quite interesting to see how different people approach the idea of the creator(designer). Even after the talk ended there were a lot of questions in my mind that were unexplained. Though Darwin’s theory was a great success but the questions that it created about the role of a designer are still unexplained. Later in the day we went to ncbs and saw the place where we were supposed to work. Our most important task was to build our own lab.
We started our day by thinking on the materials that we will require to build our own lab. So after listing everything down , we thought of making an incubator and wrote down all the stuff we would require to make one. I searched for different methods of making an incubator and found out quite interesting ways. Then we went to the lab to see the growth of our yeast. We saw all the three petridishes in which we had grown yeast but only one of them showed yeast growth...the other two were unaffected. So were happy that one third of our experiment was successful, which was a good start. We decided to work on the proportions and then tried to grow the yeast by the other two methods which were initially not successful. This time we first waited for the agar mixture to settle. We left it for an hour. After an hour the agar had completely settled and had formed a thick jelly. We put yeast in it and left it to grow for another two days.
The first thing was to see how our second attempt of growing yeast had turned out. It was interesting to see that apart from the yeast colonies there were colonies of some other fungi growing as well. So now we get back to making our incubator and centrifuge. We started with the incubator first. The most difficult part was to keep the temperature inside the incubator constant, so for that we thought of using a 75 watt bulb with an exhaust fan. Then we thought of different ways of fixing the fan inside the ice box. Then we left the incubator for a little while and started thinking about the centrifuge. We used a mixer for it. We started by using plastic tubes and made slits in the tube so as to fix it in the mixer blades. We tried and tried but didn’t work. Every time put the mixer on the tube used to fly off. So the thought process was still going on....
Still thinking .....how will the centrifuge work? Finally karthik managed to extract the base out of the jar of the mixer. So now we thought of putting a plate on top of the base which rotates with the base. Then attach the plastic tubes to which will act as test tube holders. So this is what we have planned. Now the incubator. Finally it was made..yay! but again the temperature inside the incubator was not constant and was high. So we thought of putting two more fans inside the incubator.Lets see how it works.
Making the incubator is fun!! Now we used a 40 watt bulb with 2 fans. The temperature reached to about 45 degrees. Then we thought of using another fan to reduce the temperature. We used a bigger box to put the fourth fan. It took us a lot of time to fix the fans. The whole day went in fixing the fans. We tried to connect the fans to a 9 volt adaptor but the speed of the fans got reduced. So we needed another adaptor and a bulb of zero wattage in case the 40watt doesn’t work. We were extremely tired and left all this for the next day.
Fixing the fans was one problem. There were four of them and every time we tried connecting it one or the other would stop. Then we got another 9 volt adaptor and connected two fans each to both the adaptors. Even after that one of the fans wasn’t working , so we checked all the wiring again. We did this more than thrice after which finally all of them were working properly. Once the fans started working , the wiring of one of the adaptors went loose. Now it was just getting to me. The whole day went fixing the fans in place. Then we used the 40 watt bulb first to see if it works. But the temperature again went to about 44 degrees. Then we used the zero watt bulb. There was not much change in the temperature. it went to about 42 degrees.
The next day we quickly started working on the incubator and some started working on the centrifuge. We thought of using the zero watt bulb as we could not think of anything else which would produce less heat than this. We tried different positions of the fans but none of them helped in reducing the temperature. The temperature was still stuck to 42 degrees. We were thinking on different ways to achieve perfect 37 degrees. Then Sudipto gave us an idea of using mosquito repellent instead of the bulb as it would produce less heat. So we left the rest of it for the next day.
We then used the mosquito repellent in the incubator instead of the bulb and recorded the temperature values. The temperature this time went to perfect 37 degrees this time. yay! Finally we built the incubator. The whole process of making the incubator was quite fun and we experimented with a lot of things in the process.
Daisy and James were finally here. We started off by showing them our work which was followed by a presentation of their work. After that we brainstormed under four sub headings under REST SAVING THE WEST. We started off by putting our hypothetical bacteria under one of the categories. Then we thought of other bacteria which could come under any of these categories. There were some which could not be put under any of the given categories , so we put them in a separate category.
Today we saw a really cool science fiction. We also talked about the impacts of synthetic biology which included bio-terrorism, bio-errorism etc. Then we looked at some of the projects in the old igem competitions. We really liked the project of the team EPF-laussane who had worked on light sensitive proteins and created something which worked as an on and off switch. We tried to look at it from a different perspective and came up with some of its uncommon uses. Then we transformed IGEM to IGEA- international genetically engineered art. We changed places of art and science. We were supposed to come up with ideas for IGEA. In groups of three we thought of the various categories that can come under IGEA. So we thought of categories like aesthetics, installation, static and dynamic art, modification etc. Then there was this category of ecosystem which required minimum of three microbes or plants to create an ecosystem.This would show their dependency on the environment and also how they would form a part of the ecological cycle.
Now that IGEA was designed. We were supposed to take part in it. We were divided into three groups and each group had to come up with a piece of art and was provided with certain constraints. Our group was given the topics ecosystem and shooting star. As soon as we got our topics we started brainstorming. All of us had a different understanding of an ecosystem. According to me an ecosystem runs on dependency . It is like a give and take relationship that the organisms in an ecosystem share. We were supposed to present it in 6 hours. We thought of presenting our idea in the form of a model which would represent four different ecosystems with proper functioning. But we could not take this idea further as we realised that our bacteria was not fitting in the categories given to us. Then we thought of another idea. But again faced the same problem...it was difficult for us to connect ecosystem and shooting star together. We thought and thought and then came up with this idea of a hookah as an ecosystem. We liked the idea and started thinking on the same lines. Then again we had to relate it to a shooting star and synthetic biology. No matter how much we tried coming up with ideas that day...but it wasn’t happening. So finally we got stuck with the idea of the hookah and thought of an organism that mixes in the hookah and whenever you take a drag, it just takes you through a journey of the past, present and future. We did not have any presentation or model to present our idea as it we could not come up with anything substantial till the end. We were extremely disappointed with ourselves and thought of working on our idea.
Finally we went to NCBS...but only to attend a talk by Zack on genomic gastronomy which was followed by a presentation by Daisy and James. We had seen both the presentations before but going through them for the second time induced a deeper understanding of it. After lunch we had a discussion about the way we felt about technology and the fact that are we scared of technology and its failures? There were some interesting answers to this. Some felt that technological disasters even if its a small disaster prepares us for a bigger disaster. I quite agree to this. Even if its a small disaster , it can teach us to handle a bigger disaster or even prevent it. Then we went back to college and were asked to rework on our previous ideas and present the final presentation the next morning. We had a lot to do. We thought of starting from the scratch. We again started brainstorming. We came up with an idea till the evening and thought of making a working model to show its working. Since our previous presentation was a failure, we gave our best and worked all night to come up with a good one.
We came up with a bacteria that is basically present in the air but gets activated when it enters the human body. It needs a minimum temperature of 37 degrees to survive. This bacteria induces different hormones each time it enters the human body and produces a different effect. It releases DMT (dimethyltriptamine) which helps the gland to produce its respective hormone and it mixes with the hormone to produce the effect. So it basically acts as a drug which gives you a different high every time it enters your body. We made a working model to show the working of the bacteria and also made a stop motion on psychedelic trans state. As they say hard work always pays...our work was appreciated by everyone and we were satisfied we what we did .Our failure pushed us to work hard!
Daisy had bought us books which had tales of Shiva. I have always been fascinated by mythological tales. I used to listen to them from my grandmother when I was a kid. These stories brought back all those memories. I read them with great interest and had faint memories of almost all of them. I remember listening to almost all of them from my grandmother.
Today we started our day by discussing about the mythological stories that we had read and tried to relate it metaphorically with synthetic biology. Then we came up with different themes based on our ideas. The themes were bio-prospecting, Ecosystems, Immunisation against a disaster, Karma, Epigenetics, Soma and Jugaad. Then we tried putting down the myths that we could think of which could come under these themes. I really liked the idea of Jugaad and it was fun to think of myths which could come under Jugaad. While coming up with the myths under Jugaad, I could approach the mythological stories that I had read in a different way. Half of the things that I could think of were based on Jugaad. Even today a major part of our life is based on Jugaad. In the evening , we attended a talk by Arshia who is a Sanskrit scholar. She told us a lot about mythology. She read us an extract from a play by Girish Kamad which was basically a conversation between Sita and her shadow/ image. It was quite an interesting play. I had a lot of doubts about the episode of the Samundra Manthan which slowly got cleared as the talk proceeded. I loved the way she defined a myth. She said that “a myth is a lie that tells the truth” which perfectly made sense to me. In the end, I had a talk with her about the Bhagvad Gita and she told me about the importance of Gita in one’s life. She said that it’s our choice to absorb what we want to from the Gita. She also told me about her learning’s from the Gita which gave me a different way to look at the Gita. I have tried reading the Gita, but have never read it beyond a particular chapter because every time I read it, I develop a new understanding for the same extract. After this talk my questions about the learning’s from the Gita were answered to a great extent.
Today we had to work on myths. We chose one of the myths and tried to build a story around it. So we started thinking. I was really fascinated by the story of Sita in Ramayan where she leaves herself in the fire before she goes to live in exile. So it’s just her image that goes through the whole period of suffering. We started thinking of a bacteria that could produce an image or which could replicate in a certain manner. We framed a story in which a scientist succeeds in producing an image of a girl and the girl uses her image for managing half of her work. Then later in the story there was a conflict between the girl and her shadow where the shadow feels that she was the one who had gone through all the suffering while her real self was just at peace. We were not happy with our story but since we had to work in time limits, we made a poster depicting this story. Then each of the groups discussed their stories with Yashas, Daisy and James. They really liked the myth we had chosen but asked us to improve on the story and go into the details of it. Then we had to modify our stories and represent them using bacteria. When we went into the details of our story , we could not relate it to something that was practically possible. We thought and thought and while thinking about this we came up with the idea of the karmic cycle. We really liked it and changed our concept to that of the karmic cycle. We thought of a bacteria which would just be a representation of the karmic cycle. The karmic cycle is based on our karma(actions). It gets altered according to one’s karma and it ends only when our positive deeds balance out our negative deeds. We named our movie poster ”Tamso ma jyotirgamaya” which is taken from a Sanskrit phrase and it means “Lead Me From Darkness To Light”. The bacteria was named E-li. The bacteria travels towards the light and it replicates whenever the intensity of light changes. This replication is followed by the change in its size and its shadow. We introduced the concept of shadow as a metaphor. It being the bacteria’s indicator depicting its path to the light source. We could also relate it to a general human behaviour.It is our natural tendency to follow the light and leave the darkness behind. We tend to run away from the darkness but it does follow it. But the more we go toward enlightment , the intensity of darkness reduces.
We started mind mapping. We made a mind map of the people who are in the field of synthetic biology, their current research and the organisations that are involved in this field etc. We also searched for biobricks for our respective bacteria.
Today all the three groups had a presentation on the biobricks which they had found. We also included some of the graphs that we had come up with while ideating for our bacteria. We could easily put our concept forward using those graphs. After this we again made a mind map and classified all our information in groups. Later in the day Suhas and Deepak from the level 10 comics came to visit us. We saw their work and it really inspired us.
We came back to our mind maps. We looked at the different headings and divided them amongst ourselves to work further on them. I researched on George church. Here is what I found out about him:George Church