Christina Agapakis synthetic biology, microbial ecology,
art-science collaboration

Interdisciplinary biologist, writer, educator, and artist

My research explores symbiosis and ecology among microbes and between biology, technology, and culture. I am a partner at Icosahedron Labs, an adjunct professor of Media Design Practices at Art Center College of Design, a freelance science writer and blogger for Scientific American.


PhD, Biological and Biomedical Sciences 2011
Harvard University

Advisor: Pamela Silver
Thesis: “Biological Design Principles for Synthetic Biology” [ pdf ]

BS, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology 2006
Yale University

Magna Cum Laude, with distinction in major


Environmental Health Clinic2014-present

Visiting Scholar, New York University

Hirsch Lab 2012-2014

Postdoctoral Researcher, UCLA
Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology

Art | Science Center 2012-2013

Fellow, UCLA Department of Design | Media Arts

Liao Lab 2011-2012

Postdoctoral Researcher, UCLA
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Synthetic Aesthetics Fall 2010

A project bringing together synthetic biologists, designers,
artists, and social scientists to explore collaborations
between synthetic biology, art, and design.

Silver Lab 2007-2011

Graduate Researcher, Harvard Medical School
Department of Systems Biology

Crews Lab2005-2006

Undergraduate Research Assistant, Yale University
Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

Altshuler LabSummer 2004

Undergraduate Research Assistant, Harvard Medical School
Department of Molecular Biology


Synthetic Biology 1 2014-2015

Curriculum development, video production, and design for online synthetic biology course sponsored by the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity.

Art Center College of Design 2013-present

Department of Humanities & Sciences
Visiting Instructor, "Bioissues," Spring 2015

Department of Media Design Practices
Adjunct Thesis Advisor, 2014-2015

Visiting Instructor, co-taught with Ben Hooker
Bacterial Cultures: Design for the Microscale” Spring and Fall 2014
Against Nature: Biotechnology and Design” Spring 2013

UCLA iGEM Summer 2013

Organized and mentored UCLA's first iGEM team.

SciArt NanoLab Summer 2012

Instructor, UCLA High School Summer Program

UCLA Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Fall 2011

Lecturer, “Molecular Biotechnology for Engineers”
Co-taught with James Liao

Harvard iGEM Summer 2008, 2010

Teaching assistant for the Harvard team competing in the International
Genetically Engineered Machines Competition in 2008 and 2010.

Science In The News 2008-2010

Lecturer for Harvard Medical School science outreach lecture series.
Lectures on food, fuels, and the origin of life.

MIT High School Studies Program Spring 2010

Instructor, “Synthetic Biology”
Selected course materials are available online.


Original Research

Angus AA, Agapakis CM, Fong S, Yerrapragada S, Estrada-de los Santos P, Yang P, Song N, Kano S, Caballero-Mellado J, de Faria SM, Dakora FD, Weinstock G, and Hirsch AM. "Plant-Associated Symbiotic Burkholderia Species Lack Hallmark Strategies Required in Mammalian Pathogenesis." PLOS ONE, 2014, 9(1), e83779.

Kaplan D, Maymon M, Agapakis CM, Lee A, Wang A, Prigge BA, Volkogon M, and Hirsch AM. “A Survey of the Microbial Community in the Rhizosphere of Two Dominant Shrubs of the Negev Desert Highlands, Zygophyllum dumosum Boiss. and Atriplex halimus, Using Cultivation-Dependent and -Independent Methods.” American Journal of Botany. 2013, 100(9).

Boyle PM, Burrill DR, Inniss MC, Agapakis CM, Deardon A, DeWerd JG, Gedeon MA, Quinn JY, Paull ML, Raman AM, Theilmann MR, Wang L, Winn JC, Medvedik O, Schellenberg K, Haynes KA, Viel A, Brenner TJ, Church GM, Shah JV, and Silver PA. "A BioBrick Compatible Strategy for Genetic Modification of Plants." Journal of Biological Engineering, 2012, 6:8.

Agapakis CM, Niederholtmeyer H, Noche RR, Lieberman TD, Megason SG, Way JC, and Silver PA. Towards a Synthetic Chloroplast. PLoS ONE, 2011, 6(4): e18877.

Barstow B, Agapakis CM, Boyle PM, Grandl G, Silver PA, and Wintermute EH. "A synthetic system links FeFe-hydrogenases to essential E. coli sulfur metabolism." Journal of Biological Engineering, 2011, 5:7.

Agapakis CM, Ducat DC, Boyle PM, Wintermute EH, Way JC, and Silver PA. Insulation of a Synthetic Hydrogen Metabolism Circuit in Bacteria. Journal of Biological Engineering, 2010, 4:3.
        *JBE most highly accessed article of 2010

Florez JC, Sjögren M, Agapakis CM, Burtt NP, Almgren P, Lindblad U, Berglund G, Tuomi T, Gaudet D, Daly MJ, Ardlie KG, Hirschhorn JN, Altshuler D, Groop L. Association testing of common variants in the insulin receptor substrate-1 gene (1RS1) with type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia. 2007, 50(6): 1209-17.

Hines J, Roy M, Cheng H, Agapakis CM, Taylor R, Crews CM. Myriaporone ¾ structure- activity relationship studies define a pharmacophore targeting eukaryotic protein synthesis. Molecular BioSystems. 2006, 2: 371-9.

Florez JC, Wiltshire S, Agapakis CM, Burtt NP, de Bakker PIW, Almgren P, Boström KB, Tuomi T, Gaudet D, Daly MJ, Hirschhorn JN, McCarthy MI, Altshuler D, Groop L. High-density haplotype structure and association testing of the insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE) gene with type 2 diabetes in 4,206 people. Diabetes. 2006, 55(1): 128-35.

Florez JC, Agapakis CM, Burtt NP, Sun M, Almgren P, Rastam L, Tuomi T, Gaudet D, Hudson TJ, Daly MJ, Ardlie KG, Hirschhorn JN, Groop L, Altshuler D. Association Testing of the Protein Tyrosine Phosphatease IB Gene (PTPN1) With Type 2 Diabetes in 7,883 People. Diabetes. 2005, 54(6): 1884-9.

Videlock EJ, Chung VK, Hall JM, Hines J, Agapakis CM, Austin DJ. Identification of a Molecular Recognition Role for the Activation Loop Phosphotyroside of the Src Tyrosine Kinase. Journal of the American Chemical Society. 2005, 127(6): 1600-1.

Reviews and Viewpoints

Agapakis CM. "Designing Synthetic Biology." ACS Synthetic Biology, 2013, DOI: 10.1021/sb4001068.

Agapakis CM and Tolaas S. "Smelling in Multiple Dimensions." Current Opinion in Chemical Biology (special issue on Aesthetics), 2012, 16(5-6): 569-575.

Agapakis CM, Boyle PM, and Silver PA. "Natural Strategies for the Spatial Optimization of Metabolism in Synthetic Biology." Nature Chemical Biology, 2012, 8(6): 527-535.

Agapakis CM and Silver PA. Modular Electron Transfer Circuits for Synthetic Biology: Insulation of an Engineered Biohydrogen Pathway. Bioengineered Bugs, 2010, 1:6.

Agapakis CM and Silver PA. Synthetic Biology: Exploring and Exploiting Biological Modularity Through the Design of Novel Biological Networks. Molecular BioSystems, 2009, 5: 704-13.

Book Chapters

Walker, R., Agapakis CM, Watkin E, and Hirsch AM. Symbiotic nitrogen fixation in legumes: perspectives on the diversity and evolution of nodulation by Rhizobium and Burkholderia species. In: Biological Nitrogen Fixation. F.J. deBrujjn, (ed.). John Wiley & Sons. In press.

Agapakis CM and Tolaas S. (2014) The Inside-Out Body. In A. D. Ginsberg, J. Calvert, P. Schyfter, A. Elfick, and D. Endy (Eds.), Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology's Designs on Nature (pp. 255-266). The MIT Press.


Invited Talks

Design's Big Debates: “Life Hacking” (June 2014) at Design Research Society 2014 Conference, UmeĆ„, Sweden.

“Synthesis: Synthetic Biology, Cheese, Art and Culture” (June 2014) Agricultural University of Athens.

“The Inside-Out Body” (April 2014) Synthetic Aesthetics Friday Late, Victoria & Albert Museum.

“Culture: Living With Bacteria” (March 2014) Sudbury Goodnow Library Local Luminaries Seminar Series.

“Synthesis: Biotechnology, Art, and Life in the Lab” (March 2014) Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School Women in Science Day.

“Bacterial Cultures” (January 2014) Design Dialogs, Art Center College of Design.

“The Art and Science of Smells” (December 2013) Marlborough School.

“Dirty Ecology: Bacteria and Art” (November 2013) Guest Lecture for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Synthetic Aesthetics” (November 2013) Guest Lecture for Stanford Bioengineering.

“Media Hype and Synthetic Biology.” (November 2013) With Alok Jha at the Science Gallery Dublin.

“Bacteria in Art and Science.” (October 2013) Curiosity^3 at Columbia University.

“Toe Cheese: Biology and Disgust.” (October 2013) PopTech.

"Prototypes and Provocations: Imagining the Future of Synthetic Biology." (July 2013) Synthetic Biology 6.0 Panel, Design and synthetic biology: connecting people and technologies

"Histories and Futures of Synthetic Biology." (May 2013) Guest Lecture for Introduction to Science Studies at the University of California, Irvine.

"Against Nature: Redesigning Biotechnology's Metaphors." (March 2013) Design Dialogs, Art Center College of Design.

"Feast, Famine, and Other Scenarios." (December 2012) Foodprint LA Panel discussion with Allison Carruth, Erik Cutter, and Joseph Wickham.

"Disciplining Synthetic Biology." (September 2012) 1∅ Conference.

"Building with Biology." (June 2012) Guest Lecture for Duke University TIP Futures Institute.

"Engineering Biology." (November 2011) Workshop with HackLab, University of Southern California Annenberg Innovation Lab.

"Designing Biologically: Synthetic Biology Devices in Environmental and Social Context." (September 2011) Presentation at Synthetic Biology at the Interface of Science and Policy, University of Ottawa.

"Imagining, engineering, and evolving synthetic biologies." (May 2011) Lecture at Bio:Fiction Film Festival.

Presenter, Form Follows Evolution, Function, or Fashion? Exploring collaborations between synthetic biology, art and design. (November 2010) Synthetic Aesthetics Seminar at MIT Media Lab.

Beyond Agribusiness: New and Old Ways to Grow Food. (April 2011) Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy Seminar Series, with Patrick Boyle and Tina Liu.

Conference Presentations and Posters

“Dirty Ecology.” (October 2013) Panelist at 4S: Annual meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science.

"Extremely Adventurous Human Females: Towards a Feminist Synthetic Biology?" (April 2013) UC FemTechNet Assembly: Feminist Infrastructures and Technocultures.

"Designing Living Things." (March 2012) Panel at SXSW Interactive with Patrick Boyle, Jason Kelly, and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg.

"Towards Sufficient Weirdness." (June 2011) Synthetic Biology Slam.

Agapakis CM, Boyle PM. “Knowledge and Learning Used for Good Effect: Evolving Biological Design Principles for Synthetic Biology” (June 2011) Poster presented at Synthetic Biology 5.0.

Tolaas S, Agapakis CM. “BOD_BAC_CHE” (June 2011) Poster presented at Synthetic Biology 5.0. [PDF]

Agapakis CM, Niederholtmeyer H, Inniss M, Wintermute EH, Noche R, Super M, Way JC, and Silver PA. (March 2010) Towards a synthetic endosymbiosis. Poster presented at the Institute for Biological Engineering Annual Conference. [PDF]

Hydrogen Production in Synechococcus elongatus. (February 2010) Presentation at the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center retreat.

Agapakis CM, Wintermute EH, Boyle PM, Savage DF, and Silver PA. (October, 2008) Modular Approaches to Engineering the [FeFe] Hydrogenase. Poster presented at Synthetic Biology 4.0 in Hong Kong. [PDF]

On Campus Talks and Guest Lectures

Culture: Art and the Design of Biology (July 2014) Lunch seminar at iGEM headquarters.

“Dirt” (May 2014) UCLA Leonardo Art-Science Evening Rendezvous.

"Synthetic Biology: The Art and Science of Engineering Life." (July 2013) Guest Lecture for UCLA Sci-Art NanoLab.

"Bacterial Encounters." (May 2013) UCLA Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous.

"Biological Design in Context." (February 2013) UCLA Chemistry and Biology Interface Graduate Colloquium.

"Chemical Romance: Food, Love, and Science." (Valentine's Day 2013) UCLA Art|Sci Center Workshop.

"Cheese Cultures: Art/Science/Ecology." (January 2013) UCLA Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous on Art-Science Collaborations.

"Sensual Engineering: Taste, Smell, and Biotechnology." (April 2012) Guest Lecture for UCLA Design | Media Arts Honors Seminar: Biotech and Art.

"Microbial Interactions." (January 2012) Guest Lecture for UCLA Design | Media Arts Course 160—Hybrid Worlds: NanoBioTech Plus Art.

Presenter, "Invitation to Speak: Interdisciplinary Salon." (April 2011) Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Synthetic Endosymbiosis: Towards a Photosynthetic Astronaut. (January 2010) Presentation at Harvard Department of Systems Biology Lunch Seminar.


University of California Institute for Research in the Arts 2013

Implementation Grant

Forbes Magazine 30 Under 30: Science and Healthcare 2012 and 2013

L'Oreal USA Fellowship for Women in Science 2012

UdK Award for Interdisciplinary Art and Science 2012

With Sissel Tolaas

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship 2008-2011

Inducted into ΦΒΚ, Yale Chapter 2006

Yale-HHMI Future Scientists Fellowship 2005

Yale College Mellon Undergraduate Research Grant 2004

Massachusetts Biotechnology Council Scholar 2002

National Merit Scholarship 2002

Popular Writing

Method Quarterly[]

An interdisciplinary magazine about science in the making. Co-founded and edited with Azeen Ghorayshi. Launched November 2014.

Oscillator []

A blog about synthetic biology and biologically inspired design and engineering in principle and in practice. Active since 2009, member of the Scientific American Blog Network since 2011.

Huge for the Holidays (November 2014) Lucky Peach.

"Gal Science: How Nail Polish Works" (October 2014) and "On Wolbachia" (March 2013) The Toast.

"Growing the Future of Meat" (August 2014) in The In Vitro Meat Cookbook.

"Better Living Through Germs: Design for the Microbiome" (July 2014) Re:Form.

"The Forgotten Woman Who Made Microbiology Possible" (July 2014) LadyBits on PopSci.

Synthetic Biology as Collective Fantasy (May 2014) Blueprints for the Unknown.

"DNA Stories" (October 2013) Superflux Blog.

"Edible Memories." (August 2013) Omni Reboot.

"The Structure of Industrial Revolutions." (April 2013) Synberc Blog.

"Love Our Monsters: Radical Collaboration in a Post-Disciplinary Age" (January 2013) SynBio LEAP Strategic Action Plan (PDF).

"Lactobacillus." (January 2013) The Book of Invisible Life.

"Fun and Games in the Garden." (September 2012) Essay for Arc 1.3: Afterparty Overdrive.

"Timelines, roadmaps, and tools: navigating the futures of synthetic biology." (July 2012) Perspective for SynBERC Six Parties Symposium Travel Fellowship.

"The Prozac Yogurt Effect: How hype can affect the future of science" (March 2012) and "Steak of the Art" (April 2012) Guest posts on The Crux, Discover Magazine Blogs.

Contributor to the handbook for Synthesis: synthetic biology in art and society, (July 2011) The Arts Catalyst. 

Knowledge is Power. (January 2011) Selected for publication in The Open Laboratory: The Best in Science Writing on Blogs, 2010 Edition.

Mixed Cultures: art, science, and cheese. (December 2010) Scientific American Guest Blog.

Dispatches from the future. (November 2010) Posted on

What If Science Were Like Sports? (June 2010) Guest post on World Science Festival Blog.

On Failure. (November 2009) Finalist in Graduate Student Writing Competition.

Art, Film, and Media


Opening (August 2014) Group Show with Amisha Gadani, Rita Blaik, and Megan Daalder at the Monte Vista Projects Gallery.

Dirt (May 2014) UCLA Art | Science Gallery, with Ellie Harmon.

Synthetic Aesthetics Friday Late (April 25, 2014) Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Stripped (February - March 2014) Sam Francis Gallery, Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences.

Grow Your Own (October 2013 - January 2014) Science Gallery Dublin, featuring "Selfmade".

Exposure (August 2013) Work in progress exhibition of microbial art, with Su Hyun Kim, UCLA Experimental Digital Arts Gallery.

Bacterial Encounters (May 2013) Solo Exhibition, UCLA Art|Science Gallery.

Selected Media Interviews

"How to Make Human Body Cheese" (January 2014) Guest expert on The Doctors.

"Synthetic What?" (July 2012) A conversation with Daisy Ginsberg, Patrick Boyle, and Brian David Johnson for the Intel Tomorrow Project.

"What's REALLY Living IN, ON & AROUND Your Body." (April 2012) Guest expert on an episode of The Doctors. 

"What Will Power the Future". (November 2011), Invasion of the Synthetic Bacteria. (October 2011), and Climate Change, Synthetic Biology, and Cephalopods. (February 2011) Diavlogs with Maggie Koerth Baker on

My Synthetic Life, (June 2010) Episode of The Agenda With Steve Paikin, TV Ontario.

Ancestors and Offspring, (May 2010) Diavlog with John Hawks on

Film and Video

"Who is the Bioengineer of the Future" (Winner of Online Audience Award) and "Compound 74" (May 2011) selected for Bio:Fiction Science, Art, & Film Festival

Self Portrait With Lab. (February 2011) Short film screened at Making Movies/Making Science, at the MIT Museum Second Fridays Program.

Workshops, organization, and service

Organizer, Cultured Products Showcase (November 2014)

Co-chair, iGEM Art & Design Track (2014)

PopTech Science Fellow (October 2013)

SoCal STS Retreat Workshop (February 2013)

Participant, Synthetic Biology Leadership Accelerator Program (October 2012)

SciFoo 2012 (August 2012)

UC Science and Technology Studies Student and Postdoc Workshop (June 2012)

SynBERC Postdoc Travel Award, Six Parties Symposium on Synthetic Biology (June 2012)

Peer reviewer for PLOS ONE, ACS Synthetic Biology, Sensors, IET Systems Biology, Bioengineered Bugs

updated November 2014