Tales of Urban Biology

Image by James Vaughan

In this project, we have invited researchers working on bio-related areas, writers, storytellers, and illustrators to help us imagine the future of biotechnology and biodesign in urban spaces.

Philosophers, urbanists, architects, engineers and environmentalists have questioned the positive qualities of city-living, as concerns over the impact of human-action on natural systems amount. We aimed to expand imaginaries around urban futures by looking at new discoveries of biotechnology, new expressions of biodesign, and new understandings of natural systems, expressed through fiction and artistic means.

Matched with scientists working in bio-related areas (plant biology, medical biology, synthetic biology, bio-robotics, etc), a group of prominent writers were commissioned to produce a short piece on the future of the smart city, while incorporating the science behind new developments in biology and biological design. The work resulted in the book “Biopolis: Tales of Urban Biology”, which was launched in November 2020.

In the book, Viccy Adams worked with Dr Sonja Prade, Jane Alexander with Dr Nadanai Laohakunakorn, Clare Duffy with Dr Leonardo Rios, Pippa Goldschmidt with Prof Karen Halliday, Gavin Inglis with Dr Linus Schumacher, Vicki Jarrett with Dr Abdelrahman Zaky, Alice Tarbuck with Dr Amanda Jarvis, Neil Williamson with Dr Louise Horsfall, Andrew J. Wilson with Dr Alessia Lepore and Kirsti Wishart with Dr Adam Mol & Dr Vivek Senthivel.

The stories present deeply human accounts of bio-based futures that illuminate the relevance of research in synthetic biology, biochemistry, bioengineering, computational biology, and biomedicine to our collective goals.

The project was led by Jane McKie, Elise Cachat and Larissa Pschetz and the idea of bringing writers and researchers together was a result of the project “Being Biological: Exploring the intersections between smart cities and biodesign”, with Phillip Gough, Leigh-Anne Hepburn and Martin Tomitsch from the University of Sydney. The book was the result of an Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) research award funding.