Week One: Introduction to Life Design

Fall 2015 | Rebecca Hallac | Digital Media Design E'16

Our first day in the Biology lab began with an interesting discussion, which evolved into experimental learning. The discussion started with two bold red words on the board, Evolution vs. Design. Vincent quickly identified that design is based on human intention and evolution is based on chance and Becca added that design has the aspect of control while evolution is seemingly uncontrolled.

However, what happens when the line between them blurs? When intention is introduced to evolution? Dr. Karen Hogan defined evolution to be, at its core, a change in nucleotides in DNA in a population over time. She elaborated saying these changes can happen naturally, for from the sun, or, as we will learn in this course, be accomplished via technology. Yet, now that we have the technology to manipulate and design life where do these new class of species fit in the picture?

Origin of Life by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg.

We looked at Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s illustrations of the Origin of Life which drew connections between the synthetica and the rest of the animal kingdom in a variety of ways. Yet, this did not answer our questions and instead raised more questions. What is the origin of life, and more broadly, what is life?

First we looked to existing notions. Vitalism, one school of thought, believes that living things come from other living things, yet this was questioned when an experiment created living matter (urea) out of scratch. Then we tackled the contrary idea of abiogenisis. However after discussing some theories of life we started defining it on our own and through discussion we reached these conclusions:

Life is: 

Theories of Life discussion board.

  • Energy 

  • Reproduction 

  • Complex

  • Mortality/Death 

  • Autonomy: control of itself, decision making 

  • Adapting/reacting 

  • Persistence

  • Inheritability

Life (like our diagram of it) is complicated and there are always exceptions and disputes. If a mule cannot reproduce does that mean that it is not alive? There is a range of complexity in nature, yet where do we fit into the picture of designing life? Where did we come from?

Both Gauguin and Miller-Urey tried to solve the question, where do we come from? Gauguin looked for an artistic rendering of where we came from, while Miller-Urey solved this question with an experiment that transformed inorganic matter to organic matter. Designer Adam Brown combined the two ideas and made an artistic rendering of the Miller-Urey experiment in a gallery. Miller-Urey was manipulating and synthesizing simple parts to create more complex biological artifacts.

"Mechanistic view of life"

Building life from units.  

At this point in the class the conversation shifted from units of life to units of measurement. We were given a safety briefing and were given our lab coats. And we learned the ways of the lab.

Professor Hogan giving a vortex demonstration.

Our first lab exercise was to test our pipetting skills. We transferred different quantities of blue dye and water into glass curvettes using different ml serological pipets, pipetmans and steril tips. This lab exercise was to practice our pipetting technique and accuracy, to see the accuracy we used a spectrophotometer to see the absorbance values of the blue dye in the water. To see parts of the process check out the gallery.

While this exercise was just a warm up. It got the class excited for the future labs!