Sunday, May 8, 2016

Week 6: Biotechnology and Art

While we have explored the synergy between science and art from a solely appreciative point of view in the past few weeks, the concept of biotechnology as a form of art evokes numerous controversies, particularly those that involve the manipulation of genomes. An example would be genetically-modified food, whereby food source such as crops are genetically engineered to achieve more favorable characteristics and better yield. Yet, they have been met with a slew of criticisms ranging from health concerns to issues regarding its regulations. 
Genetically modified Aporange?
Another example would be human genetic engineering, which could improve physical appearance and capabilities, metabolism, as well as analytical faculties such as memory and intelligence which were previously thought to be innate. Again, one can argue on ethical grounds that such modifications would incur unfair advantages; one could also argue that all fetus retain their right to remain genetically unmodified, and doing so violets the tenets of human rights. Nevertheless, I respect the creativity in which applications of biotechnologies are envisioned, as well as the intellectual capacity in the numerous moral debates regarding pertinent issues. Moreover, artistic creativity is inherent in all such applications, and remains to be marveled at even by the laymen. 

SymbioticA, for example, is a bioart research lab based in the University of Western Australia that looks at biology and life sciences from an artistic standpoint. It is the first school to offer Masters and PhD program in bioart, with its students obligated to pursue both art and science courses during their study. In addition, it offers a residency program for artists, designers, and architects, who will be provided laboratory access and scientific training in areas related to their fields. An example of a bioart project done by SymbioticA would be "Fish & Chips", whereby fish neurons are isolated and grown over silicon chips. When stimulated, action potential will be induced, and and then transformed into artwork, thereby essentially turning these assembled neurons into a "semi-living" artistic entity. 
An artwork created by fish neurons
Another example of a bioart would be the GFP bunny, name Alba, created by contemporary artist Eduardo Kac, in collaboration with French geneticist Louis-Marie Houdebine. The GFP protein, which were isolated from jellyfish, was inserted into Alba, and proliferated with subsequent cell divisions, resulting in fluorescence when exposed to blue light.

GFP Bunny: Alba
While the ethical issues inherent in such artworks are apparent, since lifeforms are manipulated without consent, we should nevertheless acknowledge the power of science and technology in such creations. 


1. Vesna, Victoria, “BioTech Art Lectures I-V.” Youtube, Web. 8 May 2016.

2. "Fish & Chips" Georgia Institute of Technology. N.d. Web. 8 May 2016

3. "Ars Electronica Festival 2001". Ars Electronica. 4 Feb 2011. Web. 8 May 2016. 

4. "Symbiotica" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 8 May. 2016.

5. "GFP Bunny", Eduardo Kac, N.p., N.d. Web. 8 May 2016. 

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