Upon registering for this class, I assumed the scope of the curriculum would be learning about different methods of generating art from biotechnology, rather not a look at the social and political commentary of this medium. Of course, in hindsight, it seems like the two things go hand in hand. Art IS commentary.
My first introduction to the beauty of biotechnology started in my lab. We study Drosophila melanogaster, the fruit fly, as a model system for neural complexity in the brain. The pattern of expression within the optic lobe is complex and notably layer specific, generating these complex visual fields(see figure). I sat there on my first day and just gawked at how striking the patterns were. It was one thing to witness this expression, but to be involved in generating these patterns all while contributing to scientific discovery solidified my interest in studying this topic.
Expression of DIP-GFP chimaeras in the Drosophila optic lobe (Tan et al. 2015)
Of course this data, besides being striking must have some scientific relevance, after all, how else could we continue to get funding? Eduardo Kac saw far more into the art than I ever did. I was content to bask in the beauty of it, Kac saw the sociopolitical implications of biotechnology in our personal life. His transgenic bunny, Alba, was an attempt to call out this forefront as technology is advancing faster than our philosophy to govern it. Unfortunately, Kac’s creature had no scientific relevance, he wanted it to live with him and his family, which lead to an intense controversy over the ethical implication of letting such a creature run wild. In the end, Alba stayed with the research group that created it, and Kac’s social commentary never reached fruition.
Multi-Colored FLP out: A technique for analyzing expression of neurons in a single cell manner (Source: Janelia Research Labs)
To me this was novel, I never thought about the implications of biotechnology on the social realm because the social realm is somewhat mysterious to me. But Kac is a bit of a visionary, he saw what was coming before anyone else did. GloFish are now a commercially available “light up” zebrafish. Different variants of fluorescent proteins are encoded into the genomes of these different fish so we can now buy different coloured “light up” fish. For some reason, no one is calling out GloFish in the same way Kac was called out.
All in all, I think there is a lot on the subject matter to discuss further and I am really excited about the possibilities of this course. I can't wait to see what comes next.
Commercially available GloFish (Source: Glofish.com)
History of Alba: http://www.ekac.org/petplace.html
GloFish Commercial site: https://shop.glofish.com/
Janelia Research Labs (Some beautiful examples of neural imaging): https://www.janelia.org/content/core-data-sets-gallery