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In this special issue of the NewBiologist: Artist Debbie Ding interrogates the odd, secretive world of leisure gardeners who use synthetic biology to genetically engineer plant pathogens, which cause different plants to develop visually interesting tumours- also known as ‘galls’.

Z. mays x Ustilago Maydis

Z. furfuracea x A. rhizogenes-syn2.1

Quercus × Rosacea x A. tumefaciens-syn1.0

The project "Kensington Gall" imagines a world not so far in the future in which plant tumours are being intentionally bred and genetically re-designed for ornamental purposes - by leisure gardeners and synbio hobbyists around the world.

Using the example of Ustilago Maydis as a starting inspiration, the project imagines what if pathogens and agrobacterium were to be reconsidered as cultigens, and also explores an eventuality in which synthetic biology becomes even more accessible to DIY bio-hackers.

Through a piece of long-form journalism in a fictional popular science publication known as "NewBiologist", the “investigative journalist Debbie Ding” explores the odd and obsessive world of leisure gardeners who have been using synthetic biology to genetically re-engineer plant pathogens, and goes in search of the mythical "Kensington Gall", a plant pathogen which is said to be the ultimate "super-agrobacterium".

I am interested in contemporary representations of botanical art, and how the public perception of what is originally an undesirable pathogen might be slowly changed until it is regarded as a desirable cultivar.

NewBiologist Magazine

NewBiologist Magazine Spread