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Brief Published: 11 Aug 2011



Public engagement project Biophilia explores whether the use of synthetic biology – the construction of new biological functions and systems that are not found in nature – could ever be embraced in future healthcare.

London Royal College of Art graduate Veronica Ranner envisages a probable future scenario using genetically modified silkworms to weave biodegradable scaffolds for organs, tissues and biosensors.

To fully understand the technical and ethical questions of synthetic biology, Ranner conducted research in collaboration with numerous scientists and institutes. These included the Fraunhofer Institute IGB, Stuttgart and the Department for Reproductive Sciences at Imperial College, London, as well as silkworm breeders and material scientists from Oxford Biomaterials.

"Classic genetic engineering is often misunderstood by the public and therefore opposed – even if we already consume products affected by it,” says Ranner. “Synthetic biology builds on this research, but is much more refined, potentially more controllable, and might offer solutions we can't just leave unconsidered anymore.”

Veronica Ranner