Week1 Blog

When I first enrolled in this course, I really was unsure of what to expect, so I ended up spending a good deal of time exploring biotechnology and its relationship to art on the internet.  What I mainly came across were the more controversial things, like growing extra ears on rats and human forearms, engineering glowing bunnies, and the artist suspending himself with an array of hooks and wires attached to his body. So I was a little hesitant to stick to my choice of enrolling, namely for the ethics of experimenting with animals and whatnot, but also for the ick-factor.  But as I continued to explore, I began to realize the real merit behind the genre, as many artists were actually aiming to change some aspects of life and society for the better.  I found out that some BioArt efforts include the development of Victimless Leather, meaning we could get leather without killing animals, which helps raise a lot of questions about how much we really need to exploit other living beings for our resources.  Safe to say, I became curious again. I also stumbled across some less shocking, yet aesthetically pleasing creations such as a basic sketch of a sunset over water made with bacteria expressing 8 different colors of florescent proteins:

At first, it kind of looked like one of those sketch-books where you use a little stick to scratch off a black outer-layer to expose a colorful, shiny under-layer. Then I realized it was made out of bacteria! I also stumbled across some incredible works of art made out of cells and such, which I as an artist myslef found intriguing and quite beautiful. Like this one kind of looks like a neon butterfly, but is actually "an image of a rat spinal cord showing the distribution of three types of glutamate and nitric oxide synthesizing enzymes":

After viewing your lecture videos, however, I feel I have a much more comprehensive understanding of the true range of what lies at the intersection biotechnology and art. I can see now that, while it does include them, the subject goes far beyond the few controversial artworks that come up with a first google search.  I realize that BioArt is much more than bored people testing weird experiments for no reason, and actually has a greater purpose and merit.  Things like creating florescent cells and genes look like they really will be incredibly useful to the fields of medicine and genetics, despite how strange they seem at first. New technology has been developed that causes " cancerous cells and tumors [to] literally glow and fluoresce when exposed to near-infrared light, giving the surgeon a precise guide about what to remove" (Stauth 2015). Its all so fascinating! As a result, I am incredibly excited to see what I will be exposed to throughout the quarter.

I was really happy that you brought up the interface that Stephen Hawking utilizes to communicate.  As I am pursuing a career in Speech and Language Pathology, I have greatly explored the realms of Alternative and Augmentative Communication, especially in terms of electronic aids and devices. Though I do not have a background in engineering or electronics, I am greatly interested in being involved in the design and development of such interfaces and devices, as I am well aware of just how incredibly crucial they are to the people who use them and the people who interact with them. In a Linguistics and Speech Pathology course I learned about how, using one particular device that tracks his cheek movement, Hawking can use an entire computer pretty much to the degree as a normally functioning adult. I feel that your insights about the blurring of lines between organic life and technology truly is highlighted by necessary advances such as these.

I also found your mention of the Blood Wars really interesting. Just yesterday, I was discussing with my mother (who studied genetics before ultimately pursing a career in veterinary medicine) the emergence of new super-viruses and bacteria that layer upon each other (This is a much more simplified version).  She told me that while you treat the "outer" bacteria with a given antibiotic that it is sensitive to, the next level down gains a resistance to the same antibiotic and passes on its gained resistance or immunity to the lower-level bacterium, and it continues to mutate like this from layer to layer, ultimately contributing to a mutated and super-resistant bacteria. This concept was both mind-blowing and horrifying to me. While I know some of it is done solely for the social commentary and whatnot, I wonder what bio-art like the Blood Wars will be able to contribute to pressing issues like this.  While it is seen as rather whimsical, I wonder if in determining which immune cells are the most successful and resilient will help contribute into some serious advancements in actually treating infections and diseases.  I feel like the microscopic world is changing as rapidly as the macroscopic world is, and perhaps some of the radical and new approaches that emerge out of bio-art may provide the answers we don't have yet.

Additionally, your mention of the genetically modified flowers instantly caught my attention and sent me right back to google to see and learn more. I personally love growing plants and flowers, and I've always wondered about how people go about genetically engineering them to get specific colors and patterns, especially since a lot of today's food is engineered to look and taste a certain way as well.  One really cool thing I came across was how a flower was re-engineered to resemble a certain type of female wasp in both shape, color and smell.  The result of this rather random and bizarre change was that it actually tricked the male wasps into approaching the flowers in an attempt to mate with them, thus tricking them into pollinating countless flowers as a side-effect. I found this so fascinating, especially because I feel such advances may be necessary to helping continue the pollination processes after disease has struck so many bee colonies recently. So cool!

References:

Gregory, Phillip (2008). Ch 38: Angiosperm Reproduction and Biotechnology (PowerPoint). Pearson Education, Inc. Web. Apr 2016.

Lin, Li-Hsien (2012). Butterfly shaped figure (BioArt contest winner),  Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). Web. Apr2016.

Shaner, Nathan (2006). San Diego Beach Scene. Artwork by Nathan Shaner, photography by Paul Steinbach, created in the lab of Roger Tsien. Web. Apr 2016.

Stauth, David (2015). "'Glowing' new nanotechnology guides cancer surgery, also kills remaining malignant cells". Oregon State University. Web. Apr 2016.