Three speculative future scenarios exploring how the relation to the nonhuman world might change with the evolvement of synthetic biology.

AUDIBLE FLORA

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A biohacked sensor plant detects pollution levels and indicates the result in sound, claiming rights to exist.

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A group of DIY biohackers design a new sensor plant that detect pollution levels and indicates the result in sound to elevate the worsening environmental condition to their fellow citizen. When the plants are put in a beneficial surrounding, they “sing” beautifully. When put in a heavily polluted place, they “scream” a disturbing noise.

Initially, the environment improves as people respond to the emotional cues of the plants. However, having found a new niche in which to prosper, the plants eventually mutate and are spread without control, rendering polluted areas uninhabitable by noise. It’s as if nature suddenly has a power to express itself, claiming rights to exist.

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The anthropocene, the proposed human geological epoch, heralds mass extinction and loss of biodiversity. But with synthetic biology, we could end up in a state with even more species than before. In a future where parts (or all) of nature has been designed by humans, what would biodiversity mean? Could human-designed plants even be considered nature?

Audible Flora has been designed with a good intent: to improve the environment and reduce pollution. But with the power to quickly change organisms, there is a risk that sensitive ecosystems that have taken thousands of years to develop are disrupted.

 When do we classify a species as invasive, when plants created in laboratories are not native to any location? What is the moral difference between natural adaptation and human design?

 Imagine a future where corporations and governments control what species that exist. Would they care about genetic pollution, when they today often don’t care about pollution?

Project made in the project “Biosynthetic Design” at the Interactive Institute.


BIOSYNTHETIC POSSESSIONS

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In the year 2030, on the brink of ecological collapse, when overconsumption threatened the human existence, factories were hastily shut down to give some breathing room to the planet.

To reconcile our lifestyle with the ecosystem, only biological and digital goods were allowed on the market. This led to a global surge in research on synthetic biology, and soon, we could modify organisms to grow into any shape or function. Matching the products of the old world.


A table can now be grown from a genetically modified seed. It requires care and attention to live and prosper, but in return, it repairs itself and can multiply and spread.

The teddy bear that your child treated as if it was alive, now is. Growing with the child, getting bigger as the child gets older.

Bioluminescent fungi fill replace lamps in the lack of electricity.

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GM crops are already being patented, transforming a species into intellectual property and a commodity. In this scenario, nature is being transformed into a possession, and our possessions are a part of nature. When the border between nature and product dissolves, how will the relation to our surroundings change?

If your products would be alive, would you suddenly value them differently? Would it ease some of the most unsustainable aspects of our consumer lifestyle? Or would the mindset travel in the opposite direction, with nature being regarded as something that could easily be replaced and recreated, losing it’s value. Would we get the same estranged relationship to nature as we have to products today?

HUMAN BEEINGS

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The bees are dying, but a plant has evolved that tap into human desires and needs, using us as pollinators.
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In the face of bee extinction, an alluring plant, that tap into human desires and needs, has started appearing around outdoor gyms. The passing humans drink the plant nectar to replenish their strength. Some pollen sticks in their shirt, and as they drink from the next plant, the vital cross breeding occurs.

Nobody really knows if the plants appeared by random mutation or if they were given a “helping hand” by local biohackers.
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In a world where we see plants as products, the plants might see us as consumers. As in Human Beeings, where a plant has survived bee extinction by adopting to human health norms. In such a future, would only the plants that tended to human desires and needs thrive on this new “market”? 

Do we only care about something if it adds value to the human condition? Or does untouched nature have a value in it’s own right?