Hybrid Art

Anerkennung - Honorary Mentions

Microbial Design Studio: 30-day Simit Diet

Karen Hogan (US), Mike Hogan (US), Orkan Telhan (US)


Microbial Design Studio (MDS) is a desktop prototyping tool that automates the design of transgenic microorganisms. The platform replaces traditional microbiology lab equipment with a low-cost machine to allow non-specialists to grow organisms that can synthesize products such as biomaterials, food, and flavors. MDS handles all stages of microbial design from bacterial transfection to incubation, lysis, and purification. Users can work with advanced genetic techniques such as combinatorial DNA design, parametric genetic manipulation, and targeted genome editing (i.e., CRISPR/Cas9).

We see this technology both as enabler and also a critique of existing practices of transgenic design. The platform intends to engage more people with genetic manipulation safely while giving them a chance to develop an informed position about the ethics of manipulating living organisms. The technology not only lowers the barriers of entry for learning about genetic manipulation, but also allows users to create culturally meaningful designs that extend beyond making glowing bacteria. We believe that the ability to engage directly with the design of transgenic products - in domains of food, medicine, or new materials - brings more awareness and responsibility to the users as they can relate to their potential implications in their daily lives.

The 30-day Simit Diet We used MDS to create a special diet using traditional Turkish simits. Simits are savory pastries sold at bakeries or on the street. Their taste and form vary in different parts of Turkey but they are a ubiquitous part of the everyday. The 30-day Simit Diet intends to make a commentary on the desire of controlling the appearance, form, and aesthetics of the human body by addressing the microorganisms that live inside our guts. We used MDS to mix different strains of wild yeast that are sourced from different people and places in Istanbul with transgenic organisms that are capable of producing vitamins, flavors, and smells. The organisms are mixed into the dough of the simits to give them different functions and flavor. Our microbially augmented diet followed a number of cases from existing microbiome research and showed how to make simits that can “potentially” mitigate depression, improve mentally sharpness, or increase fertility by affecting the gut microbiome.

The Simit for day #25 for instance, shows how research in fecal microbiota transplant might be used for weight loss (Gupta et al 2016). Microbiota transplants involve the delivery of microorganisms extracted from animal or human feces to targeted microbiomes in order to create new gut conditions similar to the donors. We created a similar scenario by sourcing feces from a thin person in Turkey. However, instead of having bacteria from the gut of an unknown “skinny” donor, the Simit #25 included bacteria obtained from the feces of a transgender person with a Kurdish origin. This simit not only intended to challenge our expectations from life sciences regarding weight loss but also questioned the heteronormative and racial sentiments behind the idea of the “skinny body” in the Turkish society.

While MDS is designed as a multi-purpose platform, its design and capabilities are influenced by the artworks that are created with it. In this regard, it is not always clear for us where the design of the tool ends and where an artwork and the cultural critique begin. While the simit diet can be designed using traditional lab methods, the MDS allowed us to approach microbiome research from a new perspective and help us algorithmically generate new variants for a 30-day diet.

While none of our simits are ready for public consumption, we present the Microbial Design Studio: 30-day Simit Diet both as a new technology as well as a cultural framework that help us interrogate the nature of humanness, which is constantly negotiated with respect to how we design ourselves with the life inside and around us.


Telhan Orkan, "The Microbial Design Studio: 30-day Simit Diet", 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial, Istanbul, 2016, http://arewehuman.iksv.org/exhibition/the-microbial-design-studio-30-day-simit-diet/ (accessed: February 15, 2017).

S. Gupta, E. Allen-Vercoe, and E. O. Petrof, “Fecal microbiota transplantation: in perspective” in Therap Adv Gastroenterol, 9 (2), pp. 229–239, Mar. 2016.


Mike Hogan

Mike Hogan (US) is a Philadelphia-based entrepreneur with experience in several fields, including embedded development, Process Analytical Technology and Knowledge Workbenches, arising from a 25 year career as an engineer in the Process Automation industry. Mike left the corporate world at the end of 2014 in order to pursue opportunities in next-generation process technology and process informatics for Synthetic Biology. Mike is an alumnus of Penn State (BA Math, MEng Engineering Science) and UPenn (MS Systems Engineering) and a collaborator with the Design Futures Group at Drexel University.

Karen Hogan

Karen Hogan (US), PhD, Teaching Laboratory Coordinator, Department of Biology, School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania. She earned her BS in Environmental Biology at the University of Dayton and PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from The University of Pennsylvania. She develops curriculum and teaches undergraduate laboratory courses in introductory biology, microbiology, and biological design. Dr. Hogan has previously served as a researcher in wetland restoration at the University of Dayton, a staff scientist in stream ecology for the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, and a research consultant for the Philadelphia Water Department and American Water Works Association.

Orkan Telhan

Orkan Telhan ((US/TR), PhD., is an interdisciplinary designer whose investigations focus on the design of interrogative objects, interfaces, and media, engaging with critical issues in social, cultural, and environmental responsibility. Telhan is Assistant Professor of Fine Arts–Emerging Design Practices at University of Pennsylvania, School of Design. He holds a PhD in Design and Computation from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a focus on Synthetic Biology and Biological Design. He was part of the Sociable Media Group at the MIT Media Laboratory and the Mobile Experience Lab at the MIT Design Laboratory.

Support received from University of Pennsylvania
Photocredits: Engin Gercek, Orkan Telhan