By definition, biotechnology is the “manipulation of living organisms or their components to produce useful, usually commercial, products” (Merriam-Webster). This field of study is the source of some of the most controversial, exciting, and debated artworks and scientific discoveries.
Anthony Atala’s “Growing New Organs” TED Talk explains how biotechnology has allowed his lab to recreate patient’s organs/tissues from their own cells. By removing some of the patient’s tissue, growing the cells in vitro, and reintroducing it to a “scaffolding material” in the shape of the anatomical structure, a new organ can be created. Artistic design is necessary in to ensure the “scaffold” is engineered correctly to fit the structure’s function.
|An ear being produced from Atala's "scaffold material" and being with layered with cells that compose ears.|
I found this technology to be inspiring as it could help save the lives of thousands. Also using cells in culture, the artist Orlan created a “Harlequin Coat” from skin cells of many ethnic groups in diamond shaped petri dishes. By incorporating diversity, Orlan’s artistic piece incorporates science to comment on multi-culturism and beauty.
|Orlan wears her masterpiece. Being composed of colored diamonds of skin cells, the "Harlequin Coat" asserts multicultural beauty.|
Likewise, when science and art use the same technologies, there is often debate. Transgenic animals are used extensively in medical research. Animals are genetically altered to express a specific phenotype, such as fluorescence, when they possess a certain gene. However, when Eduardo Kac utilized this technology to create the “GFP Bunny” for a “transgenic artwork and not a breeding project,” it was still deemed unethical by animal rights activists (Kac). I found the public outcry interesting; thousands of animals lives are disposed of for medical purposes and live under much worse circumstances than this rabbit, but is still deemed moral.
|Clockwise from Left: 1. Eduardo Kac holds Alba the GFP Bunny 2. Alba glows green under certain lighting because of GFP, green fluorescent protein 3. Transgenic mice producing fluorescence which are often used in many medical research studies|
I’m unsure where I stand on the ethical concerns of using life as a medium for expression. It seems biotechnology for medical purposes is more accepted due to the prospect of physically improving lives. However, as Chris Kelty describes this “DIY Bio” saying that “creativity breeds creativity” (Kelty 5). Therefore, it makes sense to me that art and science would share mediums because of their intertwined nature. I don’t think there are, ever should be, or can be limits on creativity, but there can be limits on actions. Biotechnology can redefine life as we know it. I’d like to see this medium be used for good rather than destruction; however, as Kelty warns “are we in control of any of this innovation, or if it controls us?” (Kelty 8). If it’s the latter, let’s hope innovation strives for improvement.
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Fontaine, Chrystelle, and Eduardo Kac. Rabbit Remix. 0200-. GFP Bunny, Avignon.
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