Adventure Background

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Background story and info. on the origins of the Adventures in Synthetic Biology comic

  1. We (MIT SBWG) had been spending a lot of time thinking about how to hide information and manage complexity in engineered biological systems. One cool set of ideas has developed around engineered genetic devices, and how to send signals between devices using common signal carriers. During this work, I made some abstract depictions of genetic devices. For example, here's a depiction of a genetically encoded inverter (Figure 1)
    Figure 1. Abstract depiction of geneticall encoded inverter. Blue arrows are PoPS signals in (left) and out (right) of the device. Green box is RBS. Yellow triangle is repressor ORF. Red box is terminator. Orange circle is operator / promoter site.
  2. Felice Frankel organized a meeting on Image & Meaning in the summer of 2005. In her brilliance, Felice asked each participant to send in a visual image associated with their work, so that it could be printed on our name tags. The name tags also did *not* include affiliation. As a result, everybody at the meeting had two immediate questions to ask everybody else. (1) What's that? (pointing at your name-tage image) and (2) Where are you from? Instant conversations. In any case, feeling confident, I sent in the abstract inverter image for my name tag.
  3. The first person who walks up to me and asks "What's that?" turned out to be Larry Gonick, author of The Cartoon Guide to Genetics. I told him about the image (Fig.1) and explained how the genetically-encoded inverter works. He said, regarding the depiction, “that sucks!” After recovering from shock I asked why. He said that I had told him a story, but that the image is static. It’s an image, but with no meaning. He said I needed a comic. I asked him how to make a comic. He said, “just go make it.”
  4. So, on the plane ride home, I skethed out a version of the comic (Figure 2)
    Figure 2. photo of the first draft I sketched out for the story board of the comic on the plane ride home. You can make out the first ever "drawings" of System Sally and Device Dude in the 2nd panel.