John Ward is professor of molecular microbiology at UCL.  His work involves biocatalysis, biotechnology, astrobiology and synthetic biology - to construct metabolic pathways in bacterial hosts and to create novel nanoscale devices.

John has helped several art students with their projects and in this instance was approached by the Arts Catalyst to devise the experiments and host the lab sessions for "Synthesis".  This was a week-long workshop where a group of artists and writers spent part of the week in the UCL labs to understand the science behind synthetic biology and for both parties to engage in a two-way dialogue.


synthetic biology definition

the construction of completely novel biological entities and the re-design of already existing ones.

potential applications

microbial biofuel production, bioremediation, biosensors, new drug development pathways and synthetic vaccines


the issues

/Biosafety (how do we prevent the accidental release of synthetic organisms into the environment)

/Biosecurity (what happens if people use synthetic organisms for malevolent purposes, such as bioterrorism)


/Intellectual property (should synthetic biological parts be owned by private companies or be freely available for all

/Creating life (are synthetic biologists "playing God")


Synthesis - a synthetic biology workshop

 Synthesis is an intensive exchange laboratory for artists, designers, synthetic biologists, engineers and others to collaboratively explore synthetic biology's ideas and techniques and its social and cultural implications.  The exchange laboratory has been designed by artist/designer Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg (Synthetic Aesthetics) in collaboration with scientists including Prof John Ward (UCL) and artist Oron Catts (SymbioticA UWA/Royal College of Art.

The exchange process is intended to investigate and challenge existing notions of synthetic biology, the level of control and manipulation of living systems, the application of engineering logic, and the social and cultural dimensions of synthetic biology with the intention to inspire proposals for future projects from all participants.

from the Synthetic Biology Handbook edited by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg