Archive for the ‘Week6_Biotech’ Category

Week 6 – “Biotech” by Derek Spitters

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Biotechnology has become a very controversial issue in today’s society, but when one weighs the benefits of this expanding branch of science against its possible consequences, it becomes clear that the positive aspects of this technology greatly outweigh its inherent risks. One of the largest applications of biotechnology is genetically modified food. There are a couple of ways that food can be modified for our benefit. Different species of plants can be crossbred in order to incorporate the best attributes of each into a new crop. Another way to genetically modify food is to use radiation to induce mutation of the plant’s DNA. Genetic mutation occurs naturally in all organisms as a part of evolution. Scientists can speed up this process by provoking mutation and thereafter selecting for breeding the plants that display desirable characteristics, such as drought resistance or nutritional benefits. Gene therapy can also be used to create new and useful organisms. This process involves taking DNA sequences from one plant or animal and inserting them into the DNA of another, thus transferring certain traits to the recipient.

Many people are afraid of the implications of genetically modified crops, and although their beliefs are not completely unfounded, the risks of this technology are highly manageable. The biggest risk of this facet of biotechnology is the possible damages it could have on an ecosystem. Our planet’s delicate natural environments have developed over a period of billions of years, and when scientists introduce new organisms into this environment, there is always the possibility of unforeseen consequences. These effects can be countered by careful testing before any genetically modified crops are used on a widespread scale. Other people have qualms about eating these foods themselves. What they need to realize is that there is nothing unnatural about this process. Scientists are simply accelerating a process that occurs in nature. Additionally, it is not as if this process is relatively new. Admittedly, some aspects such as gene therapy are recent advancements, but genetically modified crops have been around for years. For example, Native Americans engineered the cultivation of corn. The original forms of corn are almost unrecognizable to us today.

Hunger is a real problem in our world today, and biotechnology looks like a promising answer for many starving populations. Crops can be modified to increase yield and to make them more nutritious. They can be engineered to last longer and to stay ripe and fresh. One example of a crop that has benefitted from genetic modification is rice. Since rice is the most important crop of the developing world and is a staple food for over two billion people, it has been the subject of much research. An example of the ways in which it has been modified is the addition of the ferritin  gene, which increases iron content. Areas with iron deficiency can use this crop to supplement their diet. (http://www.agbioforum.org/v7n12/v7n12a06-datta.htm)

Another interesting area of biotechnology is cloning. This issue is even more controversial than genetically modified foods. Recent advancements in cloning look promising, but there are still many problems as well. The most significant problem with cloning is accelerated aging. This idea is explored in popular culture as well. The main character of the popular video game series Metal Gear Solid, Solid Snake, is a clone. In the fourth installment of the series, accelerated aging has caught up with Snake. His body is deteriorating, and there is nothing he can do about it. This series also explores other ideas in biotechnology. In the first installment, “Genome Soldiers” were genetically modified to have enhanced senses and to resist the effects of a cold environment. Although this series also sometimes deals with the seemingly supernatural, one of its main theme is to raise questions about emergent technologies.

Solid Snake – Age 33

rvl_smb_snake_00

Solid Snake – Age 42 (after effects of accelerated aging)

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–Derek Spitters

Triple Whammy! Allie Gates

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Three posts for the price of one!

The first is the blog i wrote the first week before I had gotten onto the correct blog and had created one of my own.  The second is the midterm post, as I accidentally posted it to my other blog. The third is this week’s. Happy reading!

One:

Several centuries later, the Two Cultures that Snow outlines are still confined to their own exclusive enclaves. This is polarization of art and science is an idea that I’ve been chewing on for some time, as it seems like a divide that I jump on an hourly basis; much like Snow, purely because of my own unique circumstances. The recipe was set from the start. My mother is an artist– an award winning graphic designer to pay the bills, a doodler and illustrator to satisfy her own artistic itches. My dad, on the other hand, is a mechanical engineer–my entire childhood quietly tapping away on his keyboard, writing cutting edge computer simulation software. On top of that, I was born a synestheid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia), which is a neurologically based phenomena wherein letters, numbers, and other abstract things are perceived to have an inherent color and spacial orientation (on of many reasons I think math is so beautiful; the colors and shapes of higher level math are exquisite). For these reasons, art and science have always seemed like deeply interrelated and interdependent subjects–at times, one in the same. Coming to UCLA was a shock, as a I had never felt like math and art were so geographically and socially isolated pursuits. Although I didn’t realize this at the time, I came to college with diametrically opposed interests. My major was chemistry, but I am a licensed hairdresser by trade. As Snow describes, it felt like jumping between cultures that speak different languages–and (enter tiny sad violin music) for a long time I didn’t feel like I really belonged in either. I attribute much of this to the fact that there are misconceptions and stereotypes on both sides. So, like Snow, I think it’ll be interesting to clear the air about the nasty little slanderous ideas that exist about both sides.

On the one hand, most south campus folk think that cosmetologists are all failed strippers. Community college dropouts. Pretty chicks that can’t do anything better than cut some hair and then go party.

Hmmmmm.

At my salon in Santa Monica, the stylist to my left is a helicopter pilot, training to fly for the Red Cross. The stylist to my left is a real estate genius and has made a killing in residential sales– he has previously dropped out of veterinary school because it was “too easy.” The stylist across the room is the drummer in a very successful LA based lesbian punk rock band. Oh yeah– our receptionist is an Arytrian refugee who is a cage fighter in his spare time. Regardless, these people are bright, interesting, business saavy and most of all: intelligent. Whatever their reasons for hairstyling, they’re all some of the sharpest knives in the drawer.

On the other hand, most stylists/manicurists/makeup artists tend to think of scientists/mathema-what-have-yous as insufferable knowitalls. Robots. Boring dweeby geeks who couldn’t find their way to a party if it poured a beer down their throat.

If there is anything that my time at UCLA has showed me, its that south campusers work hard and play harder. They just happen to know all the chemical pathways that are being tickled when that alcohol or nicotine hits. Period.

In the interest of space, I’ll leave you to dispel or confirm your own remaining notions about hairdressers and scientists. But as a special favor to me, try not to raise your eyebrows too high the next time you find out your hairdresser knows her stoichiometry better than you, or your chem tutor walks in with a haircut that Madonna would envy. People are living gradients, not categories.

With that, check out this video. I think it encompasses the romance of art and science pretty intensively.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjAoBKagWQA

Cheers!

Allie Gates

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Two: Midterm Review

If there is anything that had been driven home during this course, it is that art and science are married. Intertwined. One in the same even; the kind of polarized dichotomy you are taught to understand of Jesus– he is man, but he is god, even though the point is that they are opposites. I feel the same is true for art and science; nothing is purely science, and nothing is purely art, and they are united by this elusive idea of creativity. More specifically, art and science seem to mutually nurture each other by informing the creative process.  Both Amy Tan and Elizabeth Gilbert have incredible TED talks on the subject of creativity. TED talks are an amazing movement– a couple hundred of the worlds most interesting and brilliant people gather in Monterey, California every year and each talk for 20 minutes on whatever is the object of their passion– from science to art and everything in between.

Elizabeth Gilbert: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

Amy Tan: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/amy_tan_on_creativity.html

Elizabeth Gilbert had an especially interesting point about creativity.  She began researching the way that people have conceptualized the creative process over the last several millenia. During the time of the Greeks and Romans, people did not believe that creativity came from within. They believed that those crucial creative moments, the Aha! moments, the moments where the frustrationa and block disappate in the wake of a great idea, those moments were not your own thought, but that this muse-like entity called a genius would come to you from the divine and guide an artist’s mind and work. This conceptualization allowed people to, on the one hand, not be burdened by the pressure of great work, but also dabble in many different creative endeavors and see if genius would visit them and allow them to create outside their regular mediums.

I think propagating this idea of being visited by genius, rather than being a genius, could have interesting implications in this nebulous, gray area we’ve been grappling with, the area between what is art and what is science, what is both and what is neither.  I’d like to think that many people might start to understand that their creativity, their genius, in one area can be translated to work in another.

For my midterm, I was visited by one of these geniuses.  I struggled and struggled to conceptualize a project that was, at once, purely scientific and purely artistic, one that played off the two in a synergistic way rather than being art in spite of being enabled by science or science that was made more widely appealing because it’s pretty.  After going to the Pacific Symphony in Irvine, I realized that music is one such art/science medium, but one that has a certain natural, organic quality to it that is not usually afforded to the futuristic projects we have been shown over the last few weeks.  After bumbling around for the first month of class, struggling to find something new and interesting to propose, my idea sauntered, fully formed, into my brain. It felt as if it had nothing to do with myself, but more like as if a little Dobby the house-elf had emerged from the walls of my room and whispered the idea in my ear.  Of course this didnt actually happen, but this feeling of being removed from the creativity and letting it come to me produced what I (immodestly) feel was a great idea. I decided to design a concert hall that incorporates a biological framework in its execution.  It is a concert hall that has walls outfitted with microchips that mirror the way an octopus changes color in order to produce visualizations of people’s brainwaves as they respond to the music.  If executed, it could provide a means for people to experience music on a new level of interpersonal cohesion.

And maybe that kind of inspiration and experience is what we need to coax the geniuses out of our walls…

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Three: Biotechnology and Sexytime

One aspect of the biotechnological debate that I feel has been glossed over is simple: sex.

From the beginning of time, people have been trying to get off. Though, as a species, we’ve been overwhelmingly successful in this endeavor, humankind seems to try to stretch the limits of sexual exploration with every new generation.  For example, the turn of the century was a time when women across the globe were afflicted by the medical malady known as “hysteria”– a condition marked by feelings of unsatisfaction, anxiety, rapid heart rate, excess vaginal fluid and frustration.  Before the early 1900’s, women were not considered to be sexual beings; it was thought that men were the only ones who could experience an orgasm, and so sex acts were solely for the pleasure of the man.  Hysteria was treated by doctors in their practices, and their ‘treatment’ back then was accomplished either manually (thats right!) or with various metal tools (yowza!) in order to make a woman orgasm.  The woman would leave the doctor feeling satisfied in ways her husband wouldn’t bother to achieve, but nobody pegged hysteria was widespread sexual frustration for many years.  Needless to say, once doctors go wise to the complexities of female sexual urges they stopped offering handjobs in their practices.

However, these metal tools that they used to perform the hysteria treatment were the beginnings of what would eventually become a multibillion dollar industry: dildos, and all akin sex toys.  (In case I’ve lost you or made you uncomfortable by now, I just want to clarify that all of this is true and that Im coming around to biotechnology.)  What started as a technological advancement in the treatment of an illness caught on as a commercial product for sexual gratification.  In much the same way, I project that biotechnology that is being developed in order to push the frontiers of medical science will be diverted to a certain extent in order to serve sexual purposes.  After all, people tend to look to technology to unlock wonders that we never dreamed of, to solve problems and bring luxuries that we can’t even comprehend.  The fetishism of technology is everywhere. Asian anime porn is fraught with cyborg whores, cloned mistresses, and sex-kitten biobabes with the sole mission of sex sex sex. The mass media has already latched onto the idea of biotech fantasy girls– the new Joss Whendon series called Dollhouse plays off the idea of genetically programmable people, focusing on women that you can program to kill, or to give some sweet sweet lovin.  The series Forbidden Science takes the robot route in providing a conceptualization for the new sexual experiences that art and science may bring, wherein sex robots are designed to fit different ideas of beauty and are then tested, rigorously!, by scientists who happen to be incredibly hot.  AI, a movie that provides one idea of the future of human-robot interaction, also touches on the ‘exploitation’ of robots for sex.  This is all interesting because it approached the intersection of art and science from a new angle.  In harnessing the science of creating these objects/people of desire, they approach art in a new way, as it looks into the nature of beauty and aesthetics and catalogs it in a replicable, decipherable way, expressed in the fantasy-satisfying nature of these creations.

In the end, science and art serve what the market demands. And as we continue to demand sexual gratification, developers will continue to create ever evolving products to satisfy.

Hey, at least you can’t get an STD from a robot.

Allie Gates

Week 6: Biotechnology, Genetics, Animals and Youtube? by Ryan Andre Magsino

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Week 6: Biotechnology, Genetics and Animals by Ryan Andre Magsino

As the professor mentioned throughout the week, biotechnology, the fusion of one of the most applied sciences with modern day mechanics, encompasses an extensive portion of scientific advancement. In the same sense, it too has flooded the art scene by encouraging attempts to critique biotech implications and outcomes. Genetics, one of the sub-divisions of biotechnology which in itself is overly expansive, ups the ante in its controversial precedence; for biotech artists have been creating and developing “new art” involving living beings and systems. In addition to critiquing the science, these artists are then subject to scrutiny by pushing the ethical boundary of using biotechnology to pursue this “new art” of theirs.

Oftentimes, both biotech scientists and artists use animals as their catalyst. For scientists, the use of animals is nothing new. Even dating back centuries earlier, scientists would utilize the classical genetic procedure of hybridization in order to breed similar animals to obtain distinct traits. Nowadays, scientists can go above and beyond by removing the aspect of “chance” held by classical genetics. Scientists today work on a molecular level. In doing so, they can pinpoint specific traits to be included or excluded in an animal. What more, it is now possibly to genetically restore extinct species like the Ibex (despite it only living for 7 seconds). However, if we were to perfect this process, the possibilities would be endless. Especially with the “First Draft” of the Neanderthal Genome recently unveiled, we could bring back our alleged ancestors back to life.

If we could bring them back, why should we?

If we could bring them back, why should we?

In the same regard, some biotech artist claim genetically engineered animals as their supposed “new art.” Probably the most infamous case, which was also brought up in class, is Eduardo Kac and his GFP bunny. By implanting the green fluorescent protein (GFP) into the bunny, he claimed the bunny as a piece of transgenic art, “art form based on the use of genetic engineering to transfer natural or synthetic genes to an organism”. From this new art form rose several ethical questions which are still debated today. However, rarely do we ascertain the possible applications of such an idea. Predicting a future society in which animals and their clones coexist, one standard for cloning would be to transfer the GFP into cloned animals in order to differentiate between the cloned and originals. Presuming such technology would be utilized on humans, we would easily be able to pinpoint renegade clones such as the case in Blade Runner.

Should we mark all genetically created organisms with GFP to differentiate between natural and unnatural?

Should we mark all genetically created organisms with GFP to differentiate between natural and unnatural creations?

It is a little known fact that I am one of the editors for UCLA’s Youtube Channel. It just so happens that I am currently in the process of editing and uploading the course “Honors Collegium 70A.” This course, taught by Professor Bob Goldberg, is a joint university (UCLA and UC Davis) that peers into the historical and scientific study of genetic engineering in medicine, agriculture, and law, including examination of social, ethical, and legal issues raised by new technology. One of the unique methods of learning through this course is its student interactivity. No one is simply told what to believe. Rather they pose questions, formulate hypothesis and derive the context of such scenarios. Although none of the lectures are up as of yet, they are due soon. Therefore, I encourage everyone to visit [http://www.youtube.com/uclacourses] and [http://www.youtube.com/ucla] to check out this upcoming course as well as other courses I and my fellow editors have posted thus far. (Also, it would definitely please my boss if you would also subscribe to our channel).

Note: I was wondering if would be possible to have the prompt for the coming week be up and available by Tuesdays. I realize it may be vexing upon the moderator, but I often end up frantically writing a somewhat sloppy blog entry the night it is due since I have prior engagements scheduled during the weekend when the blog prompts are posted. Also, it would be nice to be able to formulate and develop thoughts concerning the prompt while digesting the weekly topic.

Week 6_ Biotech and Ethics by Jonah Batista

Monday, February 16th, 2009

 

This week in Design Media Arts we focused on the subject of biotechnology. I completely agree with Professor Vesna when she stated that there is so much about Biotechnology, which is one reason we could not hit ever aspect of it in one week. However, one main topic I definitely picked up on this week was the ethics behind biotechnology and how our society views advancements in this field, and whether or not these advancements and attempts should be made. Of course, this topic can go both ways, so for that reason I will have to pick one side. Coming from a science background, I have plenty of opinions encompassing the ethics of biotechnology. 

Beginning with the most interesting topic, in my opinion, would be the woman who had given birth to 8 children. I doubt this would have been an ethical dilema if she had given birth to them naturally. However, she had technologically been given the chance to do this. I remember in class we had debated about this and it seemed that everyone was on the same page, including me. The fact is that, in the end, the one who made this possible was the doctor himself. To give this women 8 more children when she does not have a steady income, her own home, or even a husband or boyfriend is really pushing the limit. In this case, it is clear that this woman and the doctor are in more than one way abusing what science has helped us accomplish. With the advancement in science, and biotechnology, we should be using this to help our current world, rather than put this woman and her children in the position they are in now. I mean, who would want to be credited with scientifically giving a family so many children that can not be supported and can potentially live a horrible life?

This led to another main topic we had discussed in lecture. This was cloning. With the successful reproduction of Dolly came much uprising among the country, and the world. Personally, I thought this was a great success in all aspects, especially science. However, ethics definitely came into play. With a clone, we are able to reproduce organs that may be needed for other humans. But isn’t a clone then a human being as well? So would we be killing an innocent human being for his organs? Questions like this are what I have had to think about many times throughout discussions involving cloning. And to be honest, I can not make up my mind. For this reason, I actually leaned towards not cloning humans, but cloning other organisms. But then again, we bring up ethics involving animals and other species. I, for one, am completely split on this matter. 

One other thing we talked about in discussion was the huge project going on in Switzerland. There is a machine in which people think will destroy the planet via black holes. Now, I think this is a huge test of ethics. My TA, John Carpenter, brought up a very interesting point. He stated something like this: “As a scientist, don’t you have an oath to not put the whole earth in jeopardy?” I completely can side with this. Yes, they are building a machine to help further our knowledge about the universe, but at the same time what is the point in learning this if we can potentially be annihilated from the universe. After doing some research I was able to find that they were almost one hundred percent confident that no black holes would be produced. Although that is somewhat assuring, I am still just a bit hesitant, and could imagine how others would analyze their opinions of ethics in this situation. 

http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2004/2/13/83840.shtml

Jonah  Batistahorsey081601

Week6_Biotech_by Crystal Lin

Monday, February 16th, 2009

I was excited for this week’s lectures because one of the subcategories was Food Engineering, but to my dismay, the Professor didn’t talk much about it. This week’s discussions have been mainly on biotechnology, and the meshing of living organisms and art through modern technologies. I recall the professor showing clips of an artist manipulating the colors of an orchid to make his ‘art’. I thought there were some beautiful flowers displayed there. I also recall her showing a website that transformed your DNA, fingerprint, or kiss into a piece of canvas art. I thought that was truly unique and creative - a work of art I would definitely want in my home. I thought most of these biotechnological advances were pretty cool, especially the robotic arm John showed in class. What I found surprising, however, was the reading. Both articles talked about how one of the main goals of biotechnology was to combine genetic technologies with living organisms, and take the art formed through them to the next level by examining the social effects these ‘artistic pieces’ have on the outside world.

The “GFP Bunny” was one of the ‘art pieces’ that caused much controversy in all directions. GFP stands for Green Flourescent Protein, and GFP Bunny was first presented in 2000 in France.

“Alba”, the green fluorescent bunny, is an albino rabbit. This means that, since she has no skin pigment, under ordinary environmental conditions she is completely white with pink eyes. Alba is not green all the time. She only glows when illuminated with the correct light. When (and only when) illuminated with blue light (maximum excitation at 488 nm), she glows with a bright green light (maximum emission at 509 nm). She was created with EGFP, an enhanced version (i.e., a synthetic mutation) of the original wild-type green fluorescent gene found in the jellyfish Aequorea Victoria. EGFP gives about two orders of magnitude  greater fluorescence in mammalian cells (including human cells) than the original jellyfish gene [2].
http://www.ekac.org/gfpbunny.html

To put it bluntly, I find it hard to believe that anyone would consider this art. I believe this ‘piece’ is purely a result of the scientific field, and in no way bridges the gap towards the art field. I suppose it could be seen as art in the sense that Eduardo Kac added his own color to an otherwise plain white subject, and therefore expressed his own unique view, but I believe it ceased to be art when he did so through a living, breathing organism. Some may say that this direct opposition contradicts my previous opinion that manipulating the color of plants is a cool art form. But I firmly believe that there is a major difference between the use of the two living organisms for art. One must first identify the original purpose of the living organism. I believe that flowers are here to provide us with oxygen (through their photosynthetic stems and leaves) and food (for those that bear fruit and for some herbivores), and to look an smell nice. I believe bunnies are here to live. What their exact purposes are amongst all the other living creatures, I’m not sure, but in any case, they are a part of the animal kingdom, and should be treated as such. When you manipulate the color of a flower, you are simply making its outward appearance different (at least that’s all I think it is doing) and making the flower more aesthetically pleasing. When   the color of a bunny however, you are in a sense adding another purpose to its original list: to be aesthetically pleasing to humans.

If you were to take a picture of a bunny, and manipulate the saturation and hues of the image, and turn it in to an “andy-warhol” group of images, I would let that pass as art, but I don’t believe genetically altering the skin and eye color of a bunny is in any way ‘art’. It’s just science.

vs

In regards to the class, I’ve really enjoyed this class. It’s very different from my usual south campus classes. The professor has introduced me to a whole new world - sort of like the third culture. I like it when she shows us the week’s topic through different media forms like YouTube clips, pictures, websites, slides etc. The only thing I don’t like is when it starts to seem like she’s just mindlessly clicking on links. Going from one site to the next, or one form of media to the next, makes it seem like she has a direction planned out, and knows where she wants to take this discussion, but sometimes, it seems like she’s just clicking links for the sake of clicking links, and it in turn seems like she didn’t really have the discussion planned out. I also didn’t really like when she showed BladeRunner and Heroes in class. If these two media productions had to do with class, and she showed them for that reason, that would be really cool. But I felt like she just showed them in class, and that was that. There was no discussion as to how and why the film really had to do with the class. I really enjoy discussions however. I always feel like we have something concrete to discuss.

Week6_Biotech by Dennis Yeh

Monday, February 16th, 2009

This week, I saw many ideas and innovations about biotech in class that I enjoyed thoroughly.  For example, I would love to own a florescent bunny, and the paintings that turn your fingerprint or dna into artwork were also interesting.  The idea that amazed me the most was the fact that a scientist could be arrested for suspected terrorism and incarcerated just for having lab equipment and working with biotech in art.  What scared me the most about this is the idea that terrorists could actually use biotech to create biological weapons, and spread these weapons through the country under the guise of biotech art.  If the FBI had a hard time determining whether or not Steve Kurtz was innocent (It took 4 years to acquit him), how could the FBI screen all biotech artists today in order to weed out experiments that have a potential to cause harm to society?

fridge

This picture from the reading really stood out to me.  It surprised me that the signs are worded in a way which conveys the idea that scientists are unconcerned with the idea that animals are living things that should be respected.  The signs point out subtly that there are no guidelines regarding the respectful and ethical treatment of cloned animals.  Dead animals are thrown into plastic bags, while dying or malformed animals MUST be executed before bagging.  The ideas that cloning is an imperfect art and that mistakes are not expected, but guaranteed to occur also brings up another ethical question: What do we do about the mistakes?  What happens if we create 12-fingered or 2-headed abominations while trying to clone ourselves?  Would they be considered human?  Should they have a right to live?  Or should be simply take the thing out back, put a bullet in the back of its head, and throw it in the refrigerator with the rest of the mistakes?

In the same reading as the picture, a quote by Shiva states:

‘‘There is …one problem with life from the point of view of capital.
Life reproduces and multiplies freely. Living organisms self-organizes
and replicate. Life’s renewability is a barrier to commodification. If
life has to be commodified, its renewability must be interrupted and
arrested.’’ (30)

When I first read this quote, it reminded me of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.  In this novel, John Hammond attempts to capitalize on a theme park exhibiting real life dinosaurs that have been brought back to life through the use of cloning dna blood samples found in fossilized amber.  Ian Malcolm, a scientist visiting the island, tells John that the park will never work because life cannot be contained or controlled.  Most notably, he states that “The history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers. Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.”

So far in DESMA 9, I have always been amazed and shocked by the videos and topics we cover in class.  Every class leaves me with something new to think about, and a new perspective on life.  However, I often notice that a lot of seemingly unrelated videos are often shown during lecture with no explanation about how they relate to the topic at hand and it would be a lot more helpful if we talked more deeply in class about the meaning behind some of the videos and exhibits, like we do in discussion section.

-Dennis Yeh

Week 6_ Do not Destroy by Christine Vu

Monday, February 16th, 2009

        The controversy of whether the benefits of biotechnology is outweighing its cost is still under much debate. Coming from a science background, and currently working in a research laboratory, I wish to offer my perspective on what I think is ethical and unethical within the research setting.
        In this week’s lecture, our class was exposed to many different forms of research: in vitro fertilization, cloning, and stem-cell research. In discussion, we focused on a current event regarding a women who had in vitro fertilization and as a result, had 8 kids. The majority of my class ruled that this was certainly disastrous and unethical. Much of the blame was put on the doctor who allowed this catastrophe to happen. Not only did he risk the mother’s life, but also the lives of all these newborns. The popular question still remains: will the kids be able to live a happy and healthy life? Opposition to scientific technology are getting worst each day because of situations like this. Nowadays, more people take advantage of science, biotechnology, for one’s pleasure, rather than necessity. In relation to the story, the mother got into this mess because she “wanted” to have a daughter. This is not the image scientific research should be portraying. These new powerful innovations should serve the sole purpose of saving lives, improving our habitat, as well as making life less complicated, rather than more.
        Another debatable issue in the research field is cloning. The technique of cloning is underway of becoming a very powerful tool. The first cloned living organism was a sheep, named Dolly, who lived for only a short amount of time. People may argue, that cloning is unnecessary. But, in my opinion, it can be extremely advantageous for the future. As a lab student focused on finding the cure for atherosclerosis, I experience a lot of difficulties in designing experiences with insufficient resources. Cloning can help researchers avoid this dilemma. It can enable us to copy cancerous cells or even cancerous animals so that we wouldn’t have to worry about the lack in resources. This would greatly speed up our research techniques, leading up to a possibly even faster discovery of whatever we are studying. As long as cloning does not incorporate human cloning, then I am in favor of it, same thing goes for stem cell research.
        I am strongly opposed to stem cell research. I see it as murdering babies, it is just as bad as in-vitro fertilization. Stem cell research involves killing a human being for the possibility of finding a new discovery. Stem cell researchers tend to think of the long-term benefits, that if they do find a cure for cancer through stem cell research, that plenty of lives would be saved. I mean, that would be great. But, how is it fair that you take away one person’s life for another? It’s just not right. It’s even worst than abortion, the way I see it. Research is designed to use what we have to build upon, not destroy.

I googled unethical scientific research and came across this picture:
monkey

week6_biotech! Transgenic Schmamsgenic by Devin Quinlan

Monday, February 16th, 2009

As a bioengineer, this past week in DESMA 9 has been especially interesting for me. Throughout the course thus far, nothing has truly grabbed my attention and connected science with art. It has always felt like each example has been more towards one side or more towards another. This past week, however, it was much more fun to see how artists connected cutting-edge biotechnology to their own creative interests, especially because I could relate to exactly what they were doing. For instance, I remember working with green fluorescent protein (GFP) back in my high school biology class, inserting the piece of DNA that coded for it’s creation into bacteria to make them glow. When the example of Eduardo Kac’s GFP Bunny was brought up in class, I was able to visualize exactly what Kac would have had to do in order to make his bunny glow (unfortunately the bunny doesn’t actually glow under normal light, that is way too cool to have been possible).

The example of the GFP bunny, however, begins to bring up ethical issues. As art and science both begin to move into controversial grounds, questions have to be asked about whether or not we as humans want to change the world as it was given to us. Being a bioengineer, I am fully supportive of pushing the boundaries of science by experimenting with cloning, stem cell research, and the creation of transgenic (or chimerical) beings. It is important, however, to make sure that these ideas are fully researched and tested before they are released outside of the laboratory.

This is primarily the case for transgenic plants, many of which have been created to be resistant to various pests to increase crop yield (such as the cotton in India that is resistant to boll worms). What begins to happen, however, when crops such as these have been released into the world, is that they spread through pollination, and can occasionally “beat out” other, native crops for survival, effectively driving them to extinction. To this date, this hasn’t been a huge issue, and has only been worrying nature activists, but in the future if, say, a strain of genetically modified apples was created that was resistant to fire blight but also unknowingly caused cancer, and this strain beat out the natural strains of apples, then we will have lost apples (which by the way, are absolutely delicious, especially Fuji). I am certain that if this were to happen to strawberries (the best fruit ever), that the number of “accidental deaths” of scientists would mysteriously skyrocket.

When it comes to things that won’t potentially destroy our world (i.e. human clones, stem cells, etc. (although there is great debate on whether or not clones will, in fact, destroy our world)), I am open to exploration. In the case of a clone, I have always believed that it is better to have lived than to have never have lived at all, and so long as clones are given rights just like everyone else, I don’t see a problem with their creation (and we all know that stem cells are from extra in vitro babies that will never ever be born). We’ll just have to wait for society to stop rejecting scientific and artistic advancement because of paranoid and conservative views, and hopefully advances will be accepted like Jazz music (a.k.a. “satan’s music”) was by the 1930’s.

In the meantime, we’ll all just have to remain content with purchasing DNA portraits from www.dna11.com, which, by the way, I have added on my iCal to-do list.

Devin Quinlan

A picture says 1000 words. A picture of words does not.

A picture says 1000 words. A picture of words does not.

Glowing animals are cool.

Glowing animals are cool. Also, I didn't want to include the same picture of that glowing albino bunny that we've already seen.

http://www.pmac.net/miguel.htm

http://library.thinkquest.org/15413/styles/jazz.htm

http://www.theenvironmentroom.com/showthread.php?t=3007

Week 6_Biotech_Long Lau

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Back in the first week the very first thing I blogged about was the article about the hair-growing cactus featured in Michael Crichton’s novel Next. In fact, a number of artworks discussed in this week’s lecture were briefly mentioned in the novel, including the florescent rabbit and the pig wings. In this unique sci-fi Crichton incorporates real-life scenarios and added in fictional elements to raise awareness of the incredible power as well as the danger of biotechnology and genetic engineering. He explores the ethical issues behind the use of human tissue for research and profit using the case of Frank Burnet vs. UCLA (which was based on the real-life lawsuit Moore vs. Regents of the University of California) where a doctor from UCLA Medical Center is sued for making money from a patent for discovering a chemical derived from a patient’s cells without an informed consent. He also provokes readers to think about how biotech researches are now shifting from universities to large corporations and how the primary goal to this technology is becoming less about benefiting mankind but more about making money. As much as all this may sound like Crichton is against biotech researches, he is actually the opposite; he shows much concerns for the knowledge acquired by this field and is just as excited for the discoveries as any other. The novel was written to alert readers of the potentials of corruption in this field, as in any other scientific studies. I think, in thes respect, his opinion on this issue is similar to professor Vesna’s: that mistakes are often made before major progress, and in spite of the criticism that the artists/researchers receive on what they have done, they are the “trail blazers” that set the course for later discoveries.

In lecture we also discussed about James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis. From what I have read his recent book The Revenge of Gaia, Gaia is basically the concept that the whole Earth works as one whole collective organism–just as single-celled organism have evolved to work together to form colonies and then multi-celled organisms, all living creatures plus the non-living matter such as rocks and the atmosphere collaberate to create a sustainable “life form” called Gaia. Capable of self-regulation and homeostasis, Gaia is one prominent example of  self-assembly; unfortunately, human seems to be disrupting this by over exploitation of renewable resources (according to Lovelock, all resources are renewable, some are just renewing in an extremely slow rate). Therefore, Gaia fights back by series of climate change and other signs that warn us to take responsibility of healing our planet. It seems to be the time for human as a race to develop a swarm intelligence in order to fix the problem we have created.

P.S. To my fellow classmates: remember one of our TA’s showed us a game about protein structure called Foldit? I’ve checked it out and it seems quite entertaining, so I recommend giving it a try.

Week 6_Biotechnology and Art by Catherine Yang

Monday, February 16th, 2009

In this week’s lecture, I found the topic of Biotechnology and Art to be very interesting. The artist Edward Steichen interested me the most because of his amazing photographs. He was an American photographer, painter, and art gallery and museum curator. His hobby was in horticulture, which is the industry and science of plant cultivation. The people involved in the field work and create research in the field of plant propagation, cultivation, crop production, plant breeding, genetic engineering, plant biochemistry, and plant physiology. Horticulture has eight areas of studies: arboriculture, floriculture, landscape horticulture, olericulture, pomology, viticulture, and postharvest physiology. He genetically modified plants for his use of photography. His most famous photograph was The Pond-Moonlight. It shows a forest across a pond, with moon peering over the horizon between trees. This photograph was created through the use of light-sensitive gums and only three copies exist in the world. It was also the most costly photograph sold or $2.9 million US dollars. Another artist that interested me too was Eduardo Kac. Even though his GFP Bunny was controversial, I found his artworks to be very unique. I especially like his specimen of secrecy about marvelous discoveries because it shows “biotopes,” living pieces that charge in the exhibition that response to internal metabolism and conditions in the environment. It consists of many small living beings in earth, water, and other materials. These small living beings interact and create different images each day saying the different metabolic state. This image may seem still and not moving, but they are constantly evolving and changing. This project reminds me of our own human body and how even though on the outside it seems we do not change much, inside our organs and metabolism are changing and interacting with each other.

clairvoyance1

When Professor Vesna talks about using animals in art, it is the same thing as animals used in scientific experiments. I believe people do learn from their mistakes because when a person conducts and experiment, there are many risk factors involved with the animal/thing you are working on. However, this factor allows you determine what you can improve for future experiences and what you did wrong in the present experiment. I also believe that Professor Vesna is right on bringing up the subject of not to take things lightly “when working with living beings.” As for Leonardo’s Choice, I think the cross activity between science and art is a very helpful because when dealing with the two subjects, new topics, questions, and answers arises. Eduardo Kac’s experiments with the GFP Bunny did cause lots of questions and controversy, but I consider his work to be safe because the GFP does not harm the bunny in anyway and the purpose of his experiment was to show how society deals with idea of difference. I believe this experiment is like any other experiments working with rats or other animals. A big controversy for biotechnology can be that mankind is manipulating life and changing things that God has originally created. Even though through these manipulations, I think people do these experiments and research for the development and increase the superiority of mankind. This act does seem selfish because human kind tests on things including themselves to benefit the human race.

bio_farm_painting1

Catherine Yang