DNA Control Agency

2012 Apr

Concept + Idea

Benedikt Groß


David Benqué, Sascha Pohflepp, Noam Toran

Developed with

VVVV, Voodoo Camera Tracker

Jelly Fish Footage

Jon Rawlinson

In my ongoing Design Interactions Master I’ve just had another possibility to engage with a topic which was very much out of my realm: Synthetic Biology. Synthetic Biology (or short Syn Bio) is basically another term for genetic modification, to quote our brief: “The main narrative of Synthetic Biology is that of finally being able to engineer the messy substance of life into the limitless machines of the future. From tweaking existing life forms to the creation of whole new organisms from scratch, it’s not about what something is, it’s about what something can do.” I really like this short but rich definition.
During the initial research I was very drawn to the very basic and unsolved questions of Synthetic Biology like: Who owns Nature? Who has the right to alter life? How much is nature worth in terms of money? and of course the whole “no patent on life” vs. “patent on life” discussion.

All the undefined regulations and missing laws around Syn Bio especially for ownership, reminded me a bit on what happened when 3G/UMTS was introduced around 2001 in Europe. Most of the EU governments decided at that time to sell the ubiquitous good of wireless frequencies (the one your telco use to provide you with fast mobile internet) to corporations. For me this process seemed very much like: “Hm … nobody owns it, so let’s ask the government whether we can buy it”. In the end the auctions of wireless frequencies were really big in terms of money: “The auction for next-generation mobile phone licences in the UK is over, leaving Chancellor Gordon Brown with a £22.47bn ($35.4bn) windfall.” (BBC) Or here is a list/news video of the first auction in Germany.

Although the whole comparison seemed a little far-fetched at the beginning I decided to run my projects on this thoughts, especially on this very speculative question:

What if corporations could buy a licence to alter DNA from a governmental DNA Control Agency? What might they do with it?

The outcome of the project was a longer presentation based on a fictional timeline including one animated scenario. The diagram of the licensing scheme, a summary of the timeline and the video goes below.


  • before 2010 Advent of Synthetic Biology, mainly applications around pharmacy and health.
  • 2010 – 2020 Decade of patent wars, triggered by Microsoft, Apple and Google around disputes around technology for mobile operating systems. Spreads like a virus over to different domains, world wide economic growth is pretty much paralyzed, governments get upset with the current patent system. Economy and voters call for action.
  • 2019 Governments pass the anti patent protocol at the 45th G8 Summit in Moscom, also know nowadays as “Moscow Protocol”.
  • 2020 Strong Implications on Syn Bio: DNA is now owned by the people, or to be more specific, in control of the governments. Because of increasing public expense most governments decide to install a DNA Control Agency to create some extra tax revenues. Corporations can now buy licenses for altering DNA of plants and animals.
  • 2023 Intel and Monsanto merge to world leading Syn Bio corporation ”Mintel”.
  • 2026 First fully licensed plants (by Mintel) is Ivy. First “hello world” examples.
  • 2030 Abies Alba is fully licensed by Mintel.
  • 2032 SAP and Mintel start joint venture and lease huge parts of the Black Forest from the state of Baden-Württemberg in Germany
  • 2036 Grand opening of the new Black Forest SAP Data Centre. Finally SAP solves their critical backup problem, their data get stored super redundant and safe in a masive chunk of Abies Alba trees in their own part of the Black Forest.
  • 2030 Huge and extremely successful PR campaign of SAP: working in the future. First time society is aware of Syn Bio.
  • 2041 Things get a bit more controversial. Mintel pilots new program: “Syn Bio Ads – The future of advertising” in Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan (see first videos above). Tremendous success, most people just love it!
  • 2048 Roll out of “Syn Bio Ads” in London (see second videos above).


The beautiful jellyfish footage was shot by Jon Rawlinson, the unaltered video can be found here. I just added the jellyfish animation on top of it.