The Molecular Prototyping and BioInnovation Laboratory, or “Biomaker Lab” at UC Davis is a place where students can try out their ideas and develop their own projects in biotechnology. It reflects as “maker culture” that is well-established in engineering, and growing in biological sciences.
But the Biomaker Lab isn’t just for scientists and engineers. Last academic year, Christina Cogdell, associate professor and chair of UC Davis’ Department of Design, partnered with the lab to develop a hands-on portion of her biodesign class. Her students worked with a symbiotic mix of bacteria and yeast that produces the fermented tea drink kombucha and which as a by-product makes a biological film that is being explored for use as a fabric in clothing and design. The class included a fashion show of “kombucha couture” grown and created by artist Sacha Laurin.
In 2018, Cogdell, with Prof. Marc Facciotti (Biomedical Engineering) and Colin Millburn (English, Science and Technology Studies) plan to take a student team into the Biodesign Challenge, a competition that pairs art and design students with science and engineering students to envision future applications of biotechnology. Top teams are invited to New York City to showcase their designs in front of members the academic, industrial, and design communities at the Museum of Modern Art.
True to the cross-disciplinary nature of the Biomaker Lab, the team will draw students from the Colleges of Letters and Science, Engineering and Biological Sciences. The Biodesign Challenge team will run as a class (HNR194) in Winter and Spring quarters 2018.
Cogdell and two of her design students previously worked with Facciotti and Andrew Yao from the Biomaker Lab to explore how to tune the color of bioluminescent light by engineering E. coli bacteria to express different forms a light-producing protein. Another student in Cogdell’s BioDesign Theory and Practice seminar used the lab to explore the idea of using the bioluminescent bacteria in bicycle lights.
“Although neither project materialized into marketable deliverables, the thought and research process would be impossible without student-focused labs such as this,” Cogdell said.