Hardware, Software & the Internet of Things
June 23–25, 2015 • San Francisco, CA

Street bio: Synthetic biology meets community

David Kong (MIT)
9:40am–9:55am Thursday, 06/25/2015
Location: Herbst Pavilion
Average rating: ****.
(4.35, 23 ratings)

Biology is humanity’s next technology revolution. The ability to re-engineer life on our planet has profound implications, from reshaping how we produce the medicine, materials, and energy we depend on, to augmenting humankind itself. Yet, the infrastructure for biological engineering, from organism design tools to DNA assembly to organism implementation, is nascent and largely confined to the laboratories of academia and corporations. Thus, we have an incredible opportunity, as the infrastructure for our bio-economy is being constructed, to move biological technologies from ivory towers and corporations to the street—to the youth, to the misfits at the edges of culture, to the communities that never dreamed of biology as a medium for creative expression.

In this talk, David will discuss the tools and infrastructure—hardware, wetware, virtual, and physical spaces—to enable broad participation in biological technologies. He will describe applications of these tools, from manufacturing genetic circuitry for the ID and destruction of cancer cells, to engineering microbial communities for sensing and curing disease. As we democratize these technologies, we will create a new paradigm of distributed biological production—an Internet of Living Things—that can enable not only the collective generation of new solutions to the problems facing humanity, but also new cultural frameworks reflecting this era of biology as technology.

Photo of David Kong

David Kong


David Sun Kong is a synthetic biologist, community organizer, musician, and photographer based in Lexington, Massachusetts. He conducted his graduate studies at MIT’s Media Laboratory, receiving a master’s degree for developing technology for printing nanostructures with energetic beams, and a Ph.D. for demonstrating the first gene synthesis in a microfluidic (“lab-on-a-chip”) system. He was an inaugural fellow for the Synthetic Biology Leadership Accelerator Program (LEAP), and serves as a mentor for the current class of fellows. He is co-chairing a new hardware track for the International Genetically Engineered Machines Competition (iGEM), and has served as a guest faculty member at the Marine Biology Lab in Woods Hole. David currently conducts synthetic biology, microfluidics, and digital fabrication research at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory with a focus on open-source hardware and democratizing technology.

David has also worked as a community organizer for more than a decade and is the founder and director of EMW, a new art, technology, and community center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. EMW’s mission is to empower communities through the transformative power of artistic expression. EMW emphasizes serving marginalized communities and develops all of its programming with values rooted in social justice. EMW’s community programs explore numerous forms of artistic expression, from poetry to electronic music, beatboxing to bio-hacking and more.

David has performed as a DJ, beat-boxer, vocalist, and rapper at hundreds of venues, including South by Southwest, the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and Brooklyn Bowl, where he opened for Tonight Show band-leader and hip hop legend Questlove. He is also an award-winning vocal arranger and producer. His photography has been exhibited at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian, the Japanese American National Museum, and other museums and galleries across the country.