Archive for the ‘Week 6_Biotechnology!’ Category

Friday, February 27th, 2009

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Week 6_ Biotechnology by Dalton Abbott

Monday, February 16th, 2009

The concept of biotechnology can be interpreted and explained in various ways. Many  view it as a means for political debate and disagreement; many understand it as a dangerous, unpredictable scientific method with potentially fatal consequences; and many see it as a revolutionary concept with virtually unlimited applications to modern day life. It seems as though everywhere I go, someone is attempting to enlighten me about the “truth” behind biotechnology. I often see special interest groups and other non-profit organizations aimed at obtaining a greater public awareness about the potential health risks of genetically modified foods, ranging from beef to most types of agriculture. In a lot of ways, someone who had not done extensive research on the many topics to which biotechnology can be applied, may be very confused when asked to quantify and develop an opinion on this complicated field.

In the past, long before I signed up for DESMA 9, I spent a lot of time researching the  benefits and negative aspects of biotechnology. It is a topic that had always interested me, partly because of its incredibly revolutionary potential, especially when applied to human life in the way of stem cell research. Opponents of biotechnology must realize that biotechnology as a whole, especially stem cell research, is in its’ very early stages. To shut down research stations and halt current investigations and experiments that have millions of dollars of time and money invested, like many are suggesting the government should do, is extremely unwise if not completely idiotic. Negative side effects of biotechnology, albeit some having fatal consequences, are simply part of the learning process, and why dangerous research is being done solely on animals and not yet on humans. I suppose what I’m saying is that the human race needs to be willing to take certain risks to develop an area that, if researched thoroughly enough and funded properly, will allow them seemingly unlimited access to new medical methods and technologies, providing revolutionary discovery in areas from disease curing to limb and organ regenration.

Though I am a strong proponent of biotechnology in the overall sense of the word, I do not believe that its principles and processes should be abused simply for the sake of art. I feel the way I do about biotechnology because of its prospective ability to improve the lives of humans in various ways, and I feel that killing hundreds of rabbits while attempting to install a fluorescent gene “for the sake of art” and careless experimentation, that offers true benefit to nobody besides the artist and the select few that find amusement in such a thing, is a poor use of resources and time. Biotechnology can be applied to modern society in so many different ways, I feel that one needn’t devote one’s time to experimental biotechnology because the field, in its entirety, is still very new and very underdeveloped as a whole, meaning that there is an incredibly large amount of valuable research to be done. As an example of the various ways in which biotechnology can apply to modern society, I will use genetically modified agriculture.

Biotechnology can modify the color, texture, and most commonly the overall nutrition of a certain fruit or vegetable. Many are against this procedure, as certain chemically modified foods have had negative health consequences, whether this effect occurs over a long or short period. However, biotechnology, even when applied to agriculture, can have numerous beneficial effects. Genetically modified foods, although many suggest that the modifications are purely for aesthetic purposes, which I agree is a process that should stop, often have certain nutrients they may be lacking inserted. Another, and perhaps more important aspect of biotechnology applied to agriculture is the chemical modifications that allow for pest control. Pests, if not monitored and eliminated, can completely decimate crops, harming not only the product itself, but the financial stability of many farmers and the economy as a whole. Genetically modified agriculture is a singular example of biotechnology that has a compelling argument for its support and its opposition, representing in this sense the controversy of the entire biotechnology field.

- Dalton Abbott

Week #6: Biotech by Jeff Poirier

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Biotechnology and genetic engineering are highly controversial topics in the arts and sciences today. The ethics of these scientific endeavors have been closely scrutinized by government, society, and academia. In Carol Gigliotti’s “Leonardo’s Choice: The Ethics of Artists Working with Genetic Technologies,” the artwork of Eduardo Kac is questioned from an ethical perspective and an artistic standpoint as well. Kac, who genetically engineered a rabbit with a fluorescent glow gene, claims that his work is meant to dismantle the anthropocentric views of society. However, as Gigliotti argues (and I happen to agree with), in manipulating the lives of other sentient beings (essentially playing the role od a diety), Kac is actually further supporting the idea that the human has the inherent right to rule over all other beings as the supreme. By some backwards logic, it would seem that Kac has developed a rationale for his experimental art that is actually quite contrary to the intuitive societal contexts. Below is an image of Kac’s GFP Bunny, the ethical questions raised by its creation have brought biotechnology into the forefront of moral debate.


Despite the fact that genetic engineering is a topic currently on the societal debate table, it has been in use in industry for quite a long time. For example, produce have been engineered to grow larger and more numerous. They also have been infused with genes that protect them from natural predators more efficiently. The debate about whether or not feeding the masses with “mutant” produce is an acceptable practice has been raging for some time. The arguments against the engineering often depict the practice as unethical and ill-intentioned. Below, a stern-faced, masked scientist injects a glowing green solution into a vegetable.


Obviously, the arguments in favor of genetically engineering fruits and vegetables include economic prosperity for the agricultural sector, increased yield of food, and an overall more efficient industry throughout the world.

                One of the campaigns staked against the genetic alteration of foods is the relatively young “organic food” craze. The companies that supply “organic food” claim that it is the most naturally raised and processed products available. Thus, their products are healthier, better for the environment, and better tasting (of course…). These claims are questionable. However, the stance against genetic engineering in this organic industry is clear.

The debate between engineered food and conventional food is well laid out here:

                Biotechnology and genetic engineering are scientific fields that have the ability to aid humanity in so many manners. However, the ethics and standards of practice in these industries must be seriously addressed as a society soon, before they become too powerful and detrimental. In response to Kac’s controversial genetic art, I would argue that utilizing genetic engineering for art is unethical. Surely, a human altering the genomes of other beings for seemingly futile gains reinforces the idea of anthropocentricism, not combats it like Kac attempts to rationalize his project with. I believe that genetic engineering is a science that can be such a positive influence in society, but it must be used sparingly and only for the most important gains. Fighting hunger and famine is a serious societal concern. One man’s God complex is not.

Below is a funny video that is sort of related to mutations and such (it’s a stretch):

-Jeff Poirier

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Today Biotech is one of the most frontier areas of science.  Biotech is constantly being applied today to forward many scientific ventures.  However, beside forwarding scientific ventures, Biotech is also forwarding artistic ventures.  Currently, Gil Alterovitz, a Harvard Medical student, is developing  a program that translates protein and gene expression into music.  This program acoustically translates these sounds into harmony in the case of good health and discord in the case of disease.  Gil Alterovitz has created both an artistic work and a more simplified way to represent the complex library of infromation inherent to gene expression.  Hopefully one day this will be able to use Gil Alterovitz’s program to detect health related changes in gene expression early via a musical slip into discord, potentially improving the patient’s outcome.  Hear is any example of what this might look like:

Example 1

Another contribution to the area of biotechnical music is the Skinstrument. What is interesting about this concept is that people are already used to the sound of skin played my percussion instruments.  In fact almost all percussion instruments are made from at least one piece of skin that is stretched out over a base.  prercussion works by the collision of two bodies to produce sound.  However if the two bodies that are then you are looking at Daan Birkmann’s Skinstrument.  Skinstrument is an instrument that came be played by 2 or more people.  It works using skin resistance as a parameter to generate sound.  The Skinstrument perceives a imperdictable flow of electricity, allowing player to become part of the circuit and which causes sounds to generate when one touches another player’s skin.  The touching intensity determines the the sound frequency.  The sound itself, electric tension, is not only translated into sound but also into sexual tension, as ironically the shape of the instrument resembles that of a breast and instinctively generated by the touch of other people skin.  This device is a unpredictable choreography based on human interaction.

At Kanas sate university,  the sounds of actual molecules have been captured.  according to the report physicists claim that they have recored, “tiny vibrations of individual molecules, that could be called sounds.”  the sounds captured are bell like tones.  Although the y are too fast and small to hear in original form  they fit the formal definition of what makes a sound.  The vibrations produce vibrations in neighboring molecule, which in turn excite vibrations in their neighbors and son on, spreading the vibrations outward.  In the future this innovation of recording the sounds of molecules could have an impact on how we look at biotech in music.

So as one can see biotech does have many piratical applications in our society.  In fact Biotech has the potential to impact all aspects of life in the world around us.  Biotech can improve our health through nano-systems.  It can improve our crops through genetic engineering.  It can even make advancements in better understanding the world around us.  However most importantly biotech has the potential to influence how we look at art.  Biotechnology has the potential to make a human being into an instrument,  It can make a disease into beautiful music and it can redefine what we think of as sound in the case of molecular sounds.  Biotechnology is an extremely prevalent innovation in our society, one which will hopefully improve our quality of life in the future.

Week6_Biotech and Art

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Immediately when we began this discussion in section, I had a strong, negative, visceral reaction to the idea of biotechnological art that manipulates or uses animals. The first image that was brought to mind was that scene in the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XII where Wizards Lisa and Bart are asked to make a prince out of a toad.  Lisa turns out a perfect prince charming, whereas Bart, less studious and less familiar with the mechanisms of the magic produces this:

Every moment I live... is Agony

"Every moment I live... is Agony"

It shows how great power, when given to those who do not understand it’s full implications, can lead to “Sins against nature” as Ms. Krabappel put it.

When an artist exhibits an animal that has been genetically manipulated (BY HIM/HER) and uses that display as a way of unveiling the horrors of the modern biotech industry, I can’t help but wonder what he/she was thinking at the time.

Here’s an example.  Pretend that some hideous crime, like the murdering of babies, was happening behind the scenes out of the public eye.  Then an artist comes along, in full view of the public, and starts murdering babies.  He says, “See? Isn’t it horrible?!  This is exactly what they (in the case of biotech the Scientists) are doing all the time!”  Maybe the artist got some public attention to the horrors of baby killing, but by killing babies himself he completely stripped himself of all credibility and dignity as a human being.  The ends do not justify the means, especially when much more effective, less abraisive, and more ethical means are readily available.

I recently went to the Hammer museum with a friend.  On display was a photograph an artist had taken of himself with hundreds of needles in his arms and chest.  I did not get a good look at it, because I immediately turned away and refused to look at it.  My friend inquired as to why.  I responded that not only did the image shock me, but that I felt like by looking at the work I was personally condoning the practice of self-abuse and legitimizing it as an art form.  Doing a horrific act is doing a horrific act.  Simple.  Whether I am an artist, a biologist or a chemist, hiding behind the title of my profession does not serve to justify the actions I take against myself, humanity, or the biosphere.

The article for this week closed with the following statement:

Whether to continue to put energies toward a new art form of creating living
beings or to commit to a more radical worldview that responds to the urgent
cries of a disappearing natural world is the choice before the contemporary

While I overall enjoyed the analysis in the essay, and found the author’s eye for contradiction in argument refreshing, I found the closing remark disappointing.  I thought she had readily dismissed the arguments that “vegetarianism is futile” and that “progress in the advancement of biotechnology is exclusive to a higher moral perspective” as conformist, but she closes with the idea that the “worldview that responds to the urgent cries of a disappearing natural world” is a radical one.  I couldn’t disagree more.  Reducing animal abuse and unneccisary experimentation is a viable goal, well within our present moral system.  Making the process to obtain the legal rights to use animals in the lab more difficult is well within our legal and political system.  Reducing the amount of destruction done upon our planet and increasing our fellow human beings standards of living at the same time are not mutually exclusive, but mutually inclusive, as you cannot truly have one without the other.

Here is an extremely interesting TED talk about what we eat, the issues of local food, the problems behind large-scale livestock production, the development of the American diet over the last 100 years, health, and global climate change:

Ethics and Implications of Biotechnology by Danya Linsteadt

Monday, February 16th, 2009

This week’s reading is on the ethics of biotechnology and art. The reading discusses the implications and effects of humans creating and modifying life to create art. Personally, I have no moral qualms about creating life for the sake of art as long as that life is treated humanly. An example of life being used for art that I find unacceptable may be found here: I also no longer support life being used as art when that life is released into the wild. An animal that has been created through genetic modifications has no niche in any environment and we have no way of knowing what will happen as the animal tries to find or create a niche for itself. Humans have been modifying life and the world around us for centuries often with negative consequences. For instance, when the eucalyptus tree was brought to the United States, it upset the balance of life quite drastically. It choked out almost all other foliage anywhere it took root. It is now one of the biggest, if not the biggest, parasitic weeds we have in this nation. The current advances that have been made in biotechnology simply make it easier for humans to change life faster. For example, humans have been selectively breeding chickens for egg-laying for a long time by choosing the chickens which laid the biggest eggs and having them breed with each other. Over many generations, we have chickens that consistently lay large eggs. Now, thanks to the advances in biotechnology, we can simply isolate the gene for a specific trait and replace it in embryos or even just clone the chicken we like. Let us say we only want eggs with green shells from now on. We simply isolate the gene in Araucana chickens that gives them green eggs then replace the gene that codes for white egg shells in Buff Orpington chicken embryos. Viola, large green eggs.

Although advances in biotechnology have created many opportunities to debate ethics and use questionable morals, it has also given us the ability to improve life. While searching for examples of robots capable of self assembly, I came upon this video: At the end, the video mentions how these robots could be used to improve search and rescue and disaster site clean up without risking human lives. The robots communicate with each other and can work together while also functioning on an individual level. Therefore, if one goes down, the ones that are left can still function together to accomplish their task. Some examples I found, however, were not so practical. A chair that claims to rebuild itself when broken: That’s a great idea! Except the fact that it would fail if the chair were to ever actually brake. The chair is designed to come apart in specific spots and “brake” into a set number of components which will then find each other and reassemble to form a usable chair. This is impractical because the chair will only repair itself when it comes apart according to plan. If the weight threshold of the chair were to be exceeded and it actually broke and fell to the ground with a person in it, not only would the computer probably be crushed to bits rendering it unable to find its pieces, but there is no guarantee that it would brake along the lines which it was designed to brake.

Week 6_Biotechnology by Joseph Duy Nguyen

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

The rapid development of biotechnology has led to many controversies regarding its ethical value. Most of these controversies revolve around the issue of the biological test medium. Biological specimens are being used by biotechnology companies as a research medium to further develop methods of altering a living organism’s genetic or phenotypic make-up. Transgenic technology is perhaps the most well-known biotech techniques to alter an organism genome. By inserting certain foreign genes into an organism’s genome, novel traits will appear on the species. This has allowed researchers to change how an organism appears and its function, which was never fully possible in the past. With this, animal usage for experimentation has increased. Research on animals has been a controversial subject for decades but biotechnology has brought it to a much larger scale.

A much debated area of biotechnology right now has to deal with art. Bioart, coined by Eduardo Kac, is a new field  that explores art through the usage of biological tissues. For these artists, biotechnology is no longer an area of study but a tool to create an artwork. This tool has been used by artists to generate fluorescent animals, DNA as a medium, animals with extra body parts, and many more. These artists are trying to incorporate life into their artwork instead of just using non-living mediums.

Rabbits inserted with RFP-producing genes.

Rabbits inserted with RFP-producing genes.

Pig wings being cultured in a bioreactor.

Pig wings being cultured in a bioreactor.

Using animals as experimental test subjects for science was somewhat OK before as it has to do with  improving human’s living conditions or the environments. The ends somehow justify the means for some people. However, bioart has, in my opinion, clearly violated human ethical values. For the purpose of entertaining others with one’s creation, artists has come to the point of using a novel medium that was unethical even in scientific research. There is no justifiable reason for the importance of bioart as a mean of expressing one’s creativity . It is just the selfish act by people for their pleasure . Humans are only one of millions of other species that inhabit this Earth. Without other species, humans would not be able to continue to live on Earth. Therefore, humans should respect other living beings too.There is no respect for other species’ right in bioart. The glowing transgenic rabbit created by Eduardo Kac is a proof of human negligence of other species’ rights. He has inserted a foreign gene into another species just on the mere whim of creating a piece of artwork to be enjoyed by others. He has idea of the consequences of his alteration of the rabbit genome. Currently, there is no evidence as to whether the technology is safe or unsafe. This lack of knowledge should be enough to prevent the technology being used on the rabbit. I think this is a very inconsiderate and immoral act by these bioart artists. Being able to do something doesn’t necessarily means it is ethical to do it.

I think one of the major reasons behind why  humans continue to abuse other species is because  many people still believe in the cultural ideology of humans being at the pinnacle of creation. Only by dispelling this belief can the amount of animal abuse committed by human decrease or cease to exist.

Week 6: Biotechnology - by Adam Parker

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

To be honest, I’m not very well educated on the topic of biotechnology. I know my friend’s dad works at Genentech and that is definitely one of the most important companies to be aware of right now. We definitely have the potential to cure a majority of the world’s deseases, it’s just a matter of time. I often think that if we did actually find a cure for cancer and aids and however many other deseases and the death rate decreases dramatically, will overpopulation become an international problem? Also, if there was indeed a cure for aids and cancer, will people be more likely to do activities like smoking and unprotected sex? Just a thought. Also, I know biotechnology has to do with the Human Genome Project and I think the HGP is one of the most interesting and important projects going on in science right now. The future of human health lies in the hands of fields like biotechnology. The fact that we now know all of the base pairs of the human genome is inevitably going to lead to breakthroughs in so many more projects. It will also greatly aid advancement in all its related fields.

One of the topics I enjoyed discussing in class was the GFP bunny by Eduardo Kac. I think it’s insane that we can alter an animal that much with pure science. It’s funny to think that people could actually customize their pets in the future. Instead of just picking the type of animal and breed you desired, you could pick the color it glows when the lights go out. Also, if we can manipulate an animal’s genes like this with relative ease, how long is it going to be until we can customize specific features in humans. How long will it be until Gattaca becomes a reality? Speaking of which, the Gattaca clip we watched in class was one of my favorites. I believe that this is where biotechnology will eventually lead us. Things like being able to bring a child into the world with the least amount of health risks and choosing the sex of the child will inevitably occur.

double-helix staircase from Gattaca

This leads to the ultimate question: Should we play God? Many people believe it it would be immoral to alter human beings that. I for one do not believe in a god, so I don’t think there’s anyone to compete with. I say we take science as far as it can go without using human test subjects (embryos are okay) and without killing a significant number of animals (significant meaning don’t make anything endangered). Although I love animals, I am of the opinion that in the end human life is more important than animal life and therefore I believe any effort to improve or prolong the life of humans is worth it. Now this does not mean it’s okay to test products like make-up on animals, it would only be for important scientific purposes. It would be nice to limit the number of animals killed in order to achieve these important goals because pictures like the one below are pretty gruesome. I just hope that biotechnology can bring us into the future without the government or the any other obstacles getting in its way.

Biotech Controversy by Oscar Chacon

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

The role of animals and tissue use for biotech has been a critical subject matter for this week.  The first response to these artists using live tissues, and genetically modifying animals for the sake of art is customarily negative. Although, I believe this is solely based on the perspective of the experimentation in biotech.  Extremist on both sides of the argument can give logical explanations and reasoning for their actions or contempt towards this sort of experiments. 

            The genius Leonardo Da Vinci was accredited by obscure sources as having been vegetarian, and freeing birds after purchasing them.  It is easy to hold this argument for an extremist point of view as the use of animals for experimentation as being flat out wrong.  This argument can broaden and eliminate a traditional perspective in the thought of extermination of animals in the past for whatever reason as well accepted. Although, as stated by Victoria Vesna, “Our world is too complex, too problematic and too overwhelming to be approached from one angle.” The assessment of complexity by many artists in their work is to offer, “the insight it may offer to ethical choice.”

Many people hold the argument that animals are not to be sacrificed for experimentation with the objective of creating an artwork. This is a true clash between the sciences and the arts, where art seeks to create something without an absolute function.  The sciences traditionally have a set objective and can justify the sacrifice of live tissues or animals. Whereas with art there is an obscure objective to create but then there is the question, for what reasons? The analyses of works done by such artists that have delved in biotech or  “biological art” does got farther than aesthetics or artistic aspects.  This is tried as separate from the ethics of their experimentation, which is ludicrous to say the least.  The perspective is key.  If there is no functional reason and more so if the primary reason is aesthetics then artist should not experiment with biotech that causes harm to animals or live tissues.  It is reasonable to experiment with the aesthetics of past experimentation that has had some success.  This will allow artists to express themselves in a creative fashion in biotech within a reasonable jurisdiction.  For example, the use of live tissues has brought up some arguments of arbitrary usage of biotech, but nothing of extreme controversy. The luminescent bunny that was succeeded after several tragic failures was of heavy controversy. Causing certain death in animals is the real controversy. Well, at least that is my opinion.

The reality is that there is a huge complexity on the levels of the ethics meshed between the sciences and arts.  The controversies raised from the integration of science in art are numerous but much more a predicament that must be dealt with the input of experts from both fields.  Then we can come to a reasonable consensus and set ourselves to be free to experience the progression of our scientist and the creative expressions of our fellow artist.

Roy Ascot Explains in an Interview on 2004 -

- Oscar Chacon

Week 6_have we gone too far trying to play God? by Cheng-Kuang Liu

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Biotechnology is a familiar yet distant topic. It has been around for a long time and it has always been a hot topic of debate, but it still seems like something so out there that it has hardly any direct impact to my life, other than genetically modified foods. The article “Leonardo’s choice” by Gigliotti helped enlighten me. In opening, she states that artists who chose to work with biology and genetic technologies aim to critique the consequences of what human can potentially do with genetic technology. Also, these artists aim to create art work using these new technologies. I find the former of the two purposes intriguing. Indeed, what humans are capable of doing now with living organisms is stunning, even though in a sense the technology is still quite primitive compared to what nature can do. Dolly the cloned sheep, for example, was a shining landmark or human’s achievement in genetic technology. On the other hand, Dolly’s premature death also shows human’s inadequacy in this field.

More and more we are digging into the depths of the mystery of life. I am taking a Life Science class which concerns mostly genetics. The details of the genetic mechanisms on the molecular level are absolutely breathtaking. It is amazing how much we have discovered. It is infinitely more amazing how much there is yet to be discovered. Any human effort to reproduce these mechanisms is humbled before such masterful design. Nevertheless, human tried and tried, and that effort is admirable, but our effort to play “God” has been thus far unsuccessful. Indeed, human is the highest form of life on earth, but have we gone too far with this role? Gigliotti discussed whether we have the right to manipulate other “lower” life forms at will. Kac took a step to make a statement. His calling the GFP bunny created much controversy. I think that the art here lies not necessarily in the bunny itself, but in Kac’s audacious statement. Now in our society, artists can get away with doing crazy things more than scientists could, so artists must assume the responsibility to bring some of these issues to the attention of the public. Kac took a good stab at it. I am not here to sentence such practices to right or wrong. I simply want to acknowledge its impact on society’s view.

Concerning genetics, there are many fantasies in pop culture. I would just like to point out a series of games called “Grow” ( This series of games involve the interaction of many “living” components and how they affect each others’ development. It is like the condensed story of a mini evolution. There is only one way to have all species grow to the highest level. In a small way, this reflects man’s desire to “play God”—to create and to control other living creatures.

Other examples in pop culture include the abundance of zombie movies and video games ( These products reveal a polar opposite side of man’s fantasies concerning genetics. In this case, it is fear. Though on one hand man is curious and is ambitious to control living organisms, on the other hand there is much fear of the consequences.