If i've ever had a reason to stay out of school it would be because of the same old monotonous classes i'd have to attend. Well I've had my share of running away. Now it's time to stay. I've always liked biology, chemistry and math maybe even a little more than arts. For the past one year I have been an art student at Srishti, I like it, a lot. But, there seems to be something missing, it feels incomplete. Maybe it was the fact that I didn't get the chance to go ahead with the "sciences". Then came this opportunity of doing something different. Synthetic biology. We read up about synthetic biology, DNA, genes, protiens and at that point I realized that all I learnt at school wasn't all that useless. Everything was coming back to me. We were told that we had to work on E-coli. My research for that day had to revolve around it. My day ended with brainstorming and coming up with new ideas. In what way could we modify an organism to do something? That, being the question of the day. At the end I came up with the idea of cloth regenerating bacteria. My other idea was to work a body to function like a thermostat in order to adjust to the environment.
The excitement hasn't gone down. Everyone was talking about how we're back to research and taking down notes. True. Our second day started with sharing our ideas and it was exciting. Some ideas were really nice and got me thinking. So I researched some more, this time it started of with aquatic life and moved from jelly fish to aerosols to nano technology. Anything seemed to interest me. I was no longer happy with the cloth regeneration idea. It was time for a new idea. The first task of the day was to familiarize ourselves with BIOBRICKS. It was really nice. It's almost like everything is programmed, like in a computer. The next thing we did was extracting our DNA. Well it was nice that i got to 'see' my DNA. The entire process ended with a ritualistic disposal of our DNA. I chose to drain it out on rocks. It excited me how something that represented life dissappeared among something lifeless, showing that life might not even be as important as we percieve it to be. Maybe it's just like how the earth might be once the "world ends", nothing will remain but lifeless matter.
A lot of reading, a long way to go. We were told about the lab today. It was pretty exciting for us to see that we would be doing some "hands on" work. My excitement dropped when i had to research all day. But, nothing goes to waste, does it? We made a list of all the equipment that we would be needing for out DIY lab. Then we split into groups and picked equipment that we'd want to work on. Madhul and i picked the incubator. The first thing i thought of was the incubators in hospitals for babies. Well a temperature regulated case, how hard could it be? We made illustrations designing the equipment. The later part of today i saw something really neat, a webcam microscope. All we had to do was open it up, flip the lens and fit it back in. Now we have a pretty cool microscope and we can click images, freezing them in frames. But we had one issue, the microscope was not stable. Considering that is the most important feature of the microscope we had to come up with a structure that would make it stable providing it ample light. I had a picture in my head and i drew it out. Then we looked at what others did. I thought it was best for me to combine my idea with others. The final design was to fit the microscope on an adjustable top. Finally to attach that structure to a firm base to maintain stability. The light seemed to be a bit of an issue. We thought of placing it around the webcam. This caused the light to form shadows and the light was thwarted away by the webcam, so it didnt work. We went back home with the goal of coming up with a better idea for the next day.
Some questions that we were asked to think about. What is life according to you?
Something with a functioning system is life. Something that has a working machine within it. Life is something that evolved from nothing. If its life that means it involves evolution. Life is something residing in a somewhat complex structure.
Do you think you have the right to modify a living being?
Honestly, I feel it is unfair in whatever way possible. Things are made in a specific way because they are meant to be. Messing with the purity of something is just playing with nature. You never know the same modifications can become a bane sometime later. However sometimes these modifications are permissible because the ‘being’ may require it. Or promotes wellbeing of many in general.
What is ‘design’ according to you?
Anything that involves changing anything into a different form is design. When I look at something to be more helpful in an easier way so much so that it is also appealing to my eyes and to everyone else, it becomes good design. So modification in anything to suit a purpose in a particular way is design.
I do kind of see the point of doing this exercise. It is necessary to know till where we can push ourselves. After this I feel comfortable working with whatever it is that we plan to do for the next few months.
It was the weekend. We were again back in groups. Madhul and i decided to harvest bacteria together, different ones. I didn't wan't to do one of those 'been there done that' ideas. We looked at everything and thought of bacteria and if it could produce enough. My eyes were fixed on my pet turtles, so i took swabs of the back of the turtle shell. I made chicken broth and mixed it in with gelatin and sugar for it to act like agar and harden a bit. Agar is basically nutrition or the food that the bacteria feeds on to grow. I then put wiped the swab on it in a zig zag pattern. My worry all through was what if it doesn't work? What if i went wrong somewhere? But i left it all to time. So i covered it and went to bed just hoping that i'd have something to show in class the next day.
I woke up excited. I ran up to where i put the bacteria and looked inside. There it was. Something i created, life, in some form atleast. Yes, i was quite proud of what i did.It was really nice, seeing life grow in the matter of a few minutes. It all seems so easy and yet so complex. I was intrigued by how the bacteria grew, i read up about turtle bacteria and discovered that even dogs are safer to touch.
Today was movie day. We finally watched the movie that we were supposed to for a really long time, well not really. GATTACA. It answered the questions we were asked to answer a few days ago. It spoke about so much and mainly showed me how when someone really wants something it wouldn't take anything to stop them to an extent that he or she might defy death or something that was predetermined. The later half of the day we had to come up with our own bacteria. We were asked to use www.partsregistry.org to make the biobrick. I came up with two ideas: 1) Bacteria that regenerates cloth 2) Bacteria that could make an organism into a living thermostat.
MIcroscope perfecting day, Our microscope changed form. Siddhartha, Achala, Madhul and I worked in a group. We made the support with 'mechanix' parts. It was beautiful. It was almost like watching someone construct a small structure like a miniature building. I couldnt work much because i was ill. Though Achala and Madhul fixed the structure onto a wooden base and made it more stable. The webcam was attached to an adjustable part so it could be moved closer and farther from the slide for which a base was made. We now used a light that could be moved with our hand depending on the amount of light required for that specific object. Or it could just be placed below the stand for the slide. Once we were done, we wanted to experiment with our new toy. The images were flashing on the screen much like the ones they show in the science channels on the television. I was excited. I started playing around with what i saw, Took the concept of cloud formation and pictures it forms in your head to a different level. I saw all kinds of shapes like the crescent moon, sheep, a man's face and so on. Yes, no doubt i was made fun of and got laughed at, but what the hell? I'm in art school, aren't I? We took screen shots and we were content. We put anything under the microsope to see how it looked. It seemed more fun than those biology classes at school, i'm guessing because this time we were the ones to make the microscope and put in labor, Day 8 went weirdly well.
The majority of us have mastered the art of slacking off. I am not proud of what i am saying, but yet. Truth be told the excitement has died down because there is a lot of confusion and curiosity. We all want to get our hands and head into some solid work, working on the final concept and everything. However, due to most of us being ill and tired, class was called off. We stayed at home and got ready for what was to come yet the next day. The energy gained would now be put use to pull up the interest levels in class. Hopefully!
Our microscope was ready to go and worked perfectly. This morning we spent rectifying all the minor issues with the microscope. Then we viewed more specimens under the microscope. We also looked at the turtle shell bacteria. We had not only experienced the bacteria under the light but realized that there was fungus growing and it was beautiful under the microscope. I saw that it looked a lot like the typical well drawn diagrams in our science text books. Picture perfect. I realized that things i already knew were coming back to me, it was like deja-vu. It is funny how when you know something you automatically gain interest cause you have something to talk about. The later half of the day, the movie "SHIVERS" was played in our mini basement theatre. Fun like always. A movie well ahead of its time, David Cronenberg didn't fail to surprise me after being asked to read up about him. He had this brilliant concept, quite beyond the conventional and the regular. The movie as expected stunned people and literally disgusted most. We were also told that the previous batch doing I-GEM used a similar concept as in the movie, of the parasite taking over another organism in order to make them function differently. Ever since those questions about ethics were asked, each movie i have watched, I look for answers. Answers that i have heard of or known but haven't made sense till today. I could feel my head fill up with crazy ideas. A feeling that everyone must experience often. The movie made much more sense than one can see with just their bare senses. A parasite taking over a human body, something more complex than itself, was an idea showing sheer brilliance. Thinking ofit from a technological aspect, it showed that someone then could replicate our lives now. That thought left me speechless for a while.
An encounter with David Cronenberg. This morning went by with us watching him talk about his work and his ideation. We watched more interviews. Each person had much to say and everything said made so much sense. Then there were some videos on basic concepts of genes, DNA, heredity, Mendel's theories and more. This was pretty familiar, more like i knew what was being conveyed and i could immediately pull out that particular file from my head, and it was all there. So it was fun. We finally brainstormed about the morals and ethics related to gene modification today. Everyone had something to say and everyone with a different opinion. I feel that man will mess with everything around him, he is inquisitive and will not stop acquiring more and more knowledge. Things change, but i feel that we must not mess with everything. If they are made that way, then there is a reason for them being made that way and hence they do not require change. So i was pretty much against the idea. It doesn't matter what i feel, because no matter what i think man will not stop himself from being the ultimate organism alive unless there are some strict rules and regulations or laws. But who knows, these days its easy to find a loop hole anywhere.
All we did today was study up from videos. What seemed like fun yesterday was rather boring today. Too much is never too good. Here we were back at square one. Everyone had notepads today, taking note of what was being taught. I had some quality time with my logbook today after a long long time. More about DNA, genes, gene coding and so on. I couldnt help but treat myself to many breaks in the day. But i can say that at the end of the day we were all better acquainted in the science than we were before. Sitting through class was a job well done.
More educating videos. But this was not as bad as the previous day. We learnt about DNA coding and more about it. We were also taught about chromosomal anomalies. Then we were let off to finish out work on the incubator and the posters. Madhul and i worked on the poster first. It was more like the logo that we were designing, We had our ideas but then when we put them together we created a pretty neat logo/poster. Metamorphose being the backdrop, we incorporated the e-coli and we picked a human baby. The concept was to show that no matter what the size is humans can be messed with. The next part of the day was Madhul and I spent the day drawing sketches of our design. Getting the requirement list ready, our concept and the presentation.This year we also focused on making our lab equipment aesthetically appealing. We had our blueprints.
Today we left to the market to buy our thermocol box. By now I had realized that our present idea of making four to five miniature incubators would become a little too expensive. So we decided to let the awesomeness be and stick to a simple compact incubator. The temperature had to be stable at thirty seven degrees centigrade which we achieved through fairy lights that we arranged in a spiral formation at the base. The box was given a little opening through which glass was placed, now we could see what was happening inside without opening the box entirely. We attached a thermometer inside to be sure of the temperature within, Then there was a whole lot of experimentation. We had more work to do. Just when we thought we were done. It was a tiring day with me traveling back and forth from the city around four times. I retired for the day and did n o homework whatsoever.
THE FUTURE OF THE BIOBRICK. REALLY? While we are working on our project today, a diary entry flows in from the future, its mine twelve years from now...
20th September 2023 Pompeii
Dear Diary, Its been 12 years since we’ve started our soil collection and bacteria sequencing. My sister and I have traveled a lot. Money being scarce we’ve started selling our little sketches on the way. Now were famous, the traveling sisters. Braces, white scarf, glasses and our little bag. We go around collecting soil samples and putting it up on the portal. Everyone is hooked on today, everyone. It’s the new cool thing. People have said goodbye to facebook and twitter. Its rather funny, who would’ve ever thought that even one third of the world would’ve been even slightly inclined towards scientific drama. Bacteria of various types have started to prove their majority on this planet. Our neighbors, the so-called extra-terrestrials, have been living amongst us. Would we have discovered this if we hadn’t started this bacteria mapping? Sounds cool right? Well about 4 years ago, a high school cheerleader discovered it. Of course she was using our little map, it’s the new baking soda volcano in science projects. One day she took a sample of the muck under her shoe, and voila. She became the first to discover our little friends. They’ve been amongst us for the longest time and we didn’t even know it. How do you think the Egyptians managed to build the massive great pyramids in record time? It was not magic for sure. Well these extra terrestrial bacteria come together in such a way that they form a massive structure, like in cartoons. It is pretty neat. But then last spring, a scientist researching the visitors discovered something crucial. Our friends have been inhibiting our growth while they are developing at a much higher rate. They were planning on a slow destruction where they grow to be better than us and then crush our existence. I won’t lie, just the thought, scares me. It reminds me of a movie I watched years ago about alien abduction. Goosebumps. Is it all part of the master plan I wonder? Another big bang coming our way. Then again it’s just another theory. Like the missing Holy Grail. Who knows? We have facts some true and some untrue. A stereotypical question being thrown your way again, was it a boon or a bane? And now a line of debating will happen. By ignoring what’s happening we will get nowhere. But we humans do not understand that while we waste our time questioning what we are unsure of, if it were true they’re already doing something. Is it time to tighten the belt? YES. We are no colony and this is our land. Maybe one day we come across something that can help us get over this situation. So I say its time to buckle up and do something. NOW. Lets get all those who aren’t part of this yet to be a part of it and lets work together. Time is running out and the only stitch in time would be increasing our knowledge and finding a way to understand the outsiders better or getting to the shortest way, a way to kill them. This is quite stressful and tiring, but I know we will emerge victorious. Because now it’s easier and faster now that we have everyone here with us on the map. Sit down. Log in. Discover. Update. Now the traveling sisters are on a quest to engulf more knowledge and collect more samples in the hope that someday we would be as famous in science as the high school cheerleader. More places to see, new people to befriend and new species to discover.