“My family have never understood what I do,” says Neil, “but now I can show them,” thanks to design students at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in London. ‘Epigami’ lends the Japanese art of folding paper to explaining the essence of epigenetics.

A series of folds can make the same sheet of paper into a ballerina or baby elephant. Similarly epigenetic processes direct the same genome towards a bewildering array of fates. Consider as examples the fine filaments that are nerve cells or the octopus-like podocytes that assist filtration in the kidney.

Unfold the baby elephant and try making a ballerina. It’s like trying to make a neuron from a kidney cell. Once the fate of a cell is sealed, an epigenetic memory anchors its personality. And reprogramming a mature cell, ironing out all the ‘epigenetic creases’, is a biologically messy business.

Epigami was one of a host of imaginative responses to presentations by Neil and fellow scientists from the Epigenome network; part of a one-day initiative to engage young designers in the development of proposals for epigenetic designs.

A series of enthusiastic talks ranging from ‘Sex chromosomes and fur coats to ‘Who do you think you are?’ were complimented by a colourful demonstration from Thomas with his chromatin scarf. Post-prandial brainstorming afforded students the chance to workshop ideas with speakers, a process facilitated by professional designers.

What did the scientists say?

Wendy “I’m really impressed with this. The public perception is that science and design are different worlds but there are many parallels. I’m looking forward to growing some chairs!”

Wolf “I’d be interested to see how the student designs might filter back to scientists and give us new ideas…”

Thomas “This workshop has opened up new possibilities for communications”

Ueli “I truly enjoyed the interaction with the artists and designers at the workshop. It was definitely the highlight of the year so far for me.”

Angelo Vermeulen “I was sceptical to begin with today, but now I think this is one of the best small events I’ve been to so far”

This workshop was filmed by Kiki von Glasow for Fabrics of Life :: The Film

Project ideas

The following ideas are the result of a one-day workshop on epigenetic designs. Design ideas are the property of students of Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design and should not be used without permission.