Author: Anna Clemencia Guerrero
In 2018, cell biology experts from all over the United States traveled to Washington, DC, for a National Science Foundation, hereafter NSF, Ideas Lab. The topic of the program was “Understanding the Rules of Life: Building a Synthetic Cell.” During the Ideas Lab, attendees worked together to develop projects with the eventual goal of building synthetic cells. The director of ASU’s Center for Biology and Society, hereafter CBS, Dr. Jane Maienschein, was among the experts. Dr. Maienschein and her team came up with a project in which they would develop artificial cytoskeletons to place inside living cells. In other words, the team will attempt to create a kind of “cyborg cell.” The project includes team leaders from the Marine Biological Laboratory, hereafter MBL, in Woods Hole, MA, The University of Chicago in Chicago, IL, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC, and Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA. The project team also includes several graduate student trainees, including CBS’ Anna Clemencia Guerrero.
The project has a historical component, funded by an additional NSF grant, which seeks to answer central questions about the rules of life as understood by biology. Such questions include: What is a cell? How do we know when a synthetic unit counts as a cell? What from the history of cell biology influences our modern assumptions about cells? As a part of this historical team, Guerrero will work closely with Dr. Maienschein, Dr. Karl Matlin of the MBL Whitman Center and University of Chicago, Dr. Manfred Laubichler of Arizona State University and Santa Fe Institute, and Shane Jinson, a CBS graduate student studying computational history of science.
Guerrero is an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and professional scientific illustrator. Her doctoral research focuses on the history of biofilms. However, from years 2020-2021, Guerrero will shift her attention to the history of cell biology as a resident of the MBL. Along with her mentors, Guerrero will examine what we know about the history of understanding of cells, particularly in the twentieth century. Because of her interest in images, Guerrero will explore not only what we know, but how we know: What techniques do scientists use to “see” cells? What methods do scientists use to “represent” cells in images? Since some images often become iconic, they tend to guide scientists’ future ideas and research. Eventually, along with Matlin and MBLWHOI Library Co-Director Jen Walton, Guerrero will build an art installation for the MBL Library. She will also assist Maienschein and Matlin in hosting a series of workshops at the MBL focused especially on how scientists created images of cells in the past, and how they used those images to present their ideas about cells through time.
If you would like to read more about the project, learn more about it in "The Well" article, "Maienschein Lab Receives NSF Award to Study History of Cell Biology and Images". In addition to NSF funding, the historical work is supported by a grant from the Webster Foundation to Matlin and Maienschein.