‘Art offers a fresh perspective on biotechnology’

During Syncity Days on 5 and 6 October, the WUR community will be invited to look with new eyes at synthetic biology. Organizer Huib de Vriend hopes the planned lectures, videos and films will give people a fresh perspective on the life sciences and technology.
Albert Sikkema

© One scene from the short film “Hybris” of Arjan Brentjens (Netherlands, 2014)

Synthetic biology is a new scientific discipline in which researchers design (or redesign) biological systems. There is a lot to say about this topic, but the last thing De Vriend wants is a ‘deadly boring’ discussion of the pros and cons of new biotechnology. ‘Because with that question you know you will get stuck in the same old conflict of interests. Art can help us to take a fresh look at the potential of technology.’


De Vriend, whose work used to involve a lot of projects on the social impact of biotechnology, was invited to organize a festival by Vitor Martins dos Santos, WUR professor of Systems and Synthetic Biology. They got to know each other through a shared interest in film, and films dominate the programme. De Vriend is screening 20 films from the BioFiction festival held in Vienna.

One of the short films:

One of the short films is by an Austrian artist who makes textiles from moulds. The moulds react to moisture and temperature, making the clothing adapt to the environment and expose it to view at the same time. Also on the programme is a talk by the Danish researcher Steen Rasmussen. He formulates protocols for building primitive cells. De Vriend: ‘He says we are on the brink of a revolution now that we can combine knowledge of genetics, bio-informatics, robotics and systems biology.’

De Vriend wants to invite visitors to experience through film and art the effect this theme has on them. ‘I hope they will be prompted to think about the question: ‘Imagine you could use synthetic biology. What would you want to do with it?’

The Syncity programme, 5 and 6 october at Orion, can be found on

Studium Generale organizes a follow-up programme for Wageningen Dialogues

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