Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Nanotech Gets It's Own Hazard Sign

The ETC Group annouced the winners of their competition for the design of "Nano-Hazard" symbol today. Here are the winners:

ETC Group - Publications - Winners of Nano-Hazard Symbol Contest Announced at World Social Forum

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

US Leads Global Rush to Grow More GMOs

Several stories have come out regarding the recorded growth in biotech crops (13% to 252 million acres in 2006 with 10.3 million farmers planting GMOs, which is up 2%).

Global biotech crop acres grow as debate persists |

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

ETC Report on Sythetic Biology

The ETC Group has a downloadable report at their website, called "Extreme Genetic Engineering" that discusses the development of Synthetic Biology and how it consititutes a new chapter in the development of biotechnology. Importantly, they discuss not just the ethics of transgenics and synthetic biology from a position of biological essentialism, but also look at the political economy of the desires driving and benefitting from such developments.

"Despite calls for open source biology, corporate and academic scientists are winning exclusive monopoly patents on the products and processes of synthetic genetics. Like biotech, the power to make synthetic life could be concentrated in the hands of major multinational firms. As gene synthesis becomes cheaper and faster, it will become easier to synthesise a microbe than to find it in nature or retrieve it from a gene bank. Biological samples, sequenced and stored in digital form, will move instantaneously across the globe and be resurrected in corporate labs thousands of miles away - a practice that could erode future support for genetic conservation and create new challenges for international negotiations on biodiversity."

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Fact, fiction or bioterror drill?

Nice critique of inflated fear related to biowar/bioterrorism in the Register recently. It points to a case where the work of fiction author Richard Preston was used to test the "awareness" of the threat of bioterror on grad students. Apparently, just such warnings themselves are enough to make people sick.

Fact, fiction or bioterror drill? How to cook up a ricin scare | The Register

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President Bush creates BARDA - US Biodefense Advanced Research and Development Authority

The new agency is "designed to speed up the development of biodefense countermeasures by finding products..." What exactly is a biodefense countermeasure - bio-offense?

BARDA will be part of the Dept of Health and Human Services' Project Bioshield that was created in July 2004 to deal with biodefense research and products like vaccines. It seems that BARDA will financially support corporations involved in biotech research and production that were supposedly not aided by the original provisions of Project Bioshield.
Such news makes the critique of these new iterations of the military-industrial complex by Critical Art Ensemble in their latest project "Marching Plague" even more significant.

The Scientist : New U.S. biodefense agency signed into law

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100+ Biotech Labs Refuse To Divulge Operations Having Germ Warfare Potential

The linked text begins:
"Some 113 university, government, hospitaland corporate laboratories engaged in research often with potential tobe used for germ warfare have refused to disclose their operations tothe public as required by Federal rules, a nonprofit watchdog agencyhas charged."
The watchdog group cited is the Sunshine Project.

Over 100 Biotech Labs Refuse To Divulge Operations Having Germ Warfare Potential

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"Nobody Wants an Ugly Baby"

Abraham Centre of Life, a Texas-based lab has apparently become the "world's first human embryo bank" and has already impregnated two women, from Canada and California. A British couple will begin "treatment" in the next couple of weeks.

A UK official with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority had this to say:
"There is, obviously, a major ethical debate here. In the UK, we have very high regulatory standards, but in the US there are none."

An employee of the Abraham Centre comments:
"If I do discriminate, it's that I only want healthy, intelligent people. At the end of the day, nobody wants an ugly baby."

British woman orders 'off-the-shelf' designer baby | the Daily Mail

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Scientists have been trying to find good ways to turn animals into factories

An article on CNet (from which the title of this post is derived) discusses a project by a British team (the team responsible for Dolly the sheep) to grow proteins in Chickens that can be used in the development of cancer drugs. The process, like much transgenic engineering, uses a virus to insert novel genetic material into the chickens' DNA. This use of viruses as a vector for transmitting genetic material was the subject of early heated debates (such as the Asilomar Conference of 1975) about the safety and regulation of transgenic practices. Those concerns have not necessarily disappeared, and some scientists are still calling for a moratorium on such human-nonhuman transgenic processes, citing the risk of new and unstable viruses that could cross species boundaries more quickly. Critics also argue that money could be better spent on other methods of healing that are safer, more effective and accessible to more people.

Chickens engineered to make cancer drugs | CNET

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Monday, January 15, 2007

The (Bio)Politics of Corn

Many in the US are touting ethanol as one solution to the petro-energy crisis, especially when it comes to automobility. But what would the impact on global food resources be if more corn, and thus land, were dedicated to producing crops for fuel? That much of our plantable land is already inefficiently used for livestock raising and feed makes the potential redirection of even more land away from consumable food plants something to consider. With the production of engineered yeasts and corn, the biotech industry is finding itself at the center of yet another aspect of our future.
United Press International: Biotech a key to ethanol future

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Follow the Money

A recent story discusses the expansion of biotech stocks based on their potential as "takeover targets" - i.e. their acquisition by larger corporations. Specifically discussed is the attractiveness of biotech firms for pharmaceutical companies looking for new drugs as existing patents on best-sellers expire.
Philadelphia Inquirer | 01/15/2007 | Biotech firms become more tempting targets

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Interview with Art Oriente objet on WorldChanging

WorldChanging: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future: Interview with Art Orienté objet

World Changing's Regine Debatty interviews the French artist duo whose work deals with the aesthetics of science and art, and some critical examination of biotechnologies.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Adam Zaretsky to the FDA on cloned meat

Following the recent post on the FDA's ruling on cloned meat as fit for consumption and bio-artist Adam Zaretsky, here is a letter on the matter from Adam on issue that he sent in:

Does Cloned Animal Safety take into account the effect of Aesthetics on thelong-term Ecological effects of Food Chain Design?

I not very worried about somatic cell nuclear transfer as a Food Scienceedible technique. The abnormalities that can be expected might be delicious.I am more worried that the breeders may not have had the Art Historicalschooling that most Academic students of Aesthetics might have. Right now,the only type of 'taste' we can see embedded in cloned livestock is based onramping up meat production and maybe designing and cloning industrial beingsborn with zero percent transfat. If we are spending millions of taxpayerdollars on making copies of sires whose profitability is based on 4-H tropesof beauty alone, then we are missing much of what contemporary art can lendto contemporary breeding.

How do we decide what is worth engineering for?

In particular, Livestock can be designed along a wide variety of Aestheticgene expressions. Considering the range of gene expressions possible in acollage of multiple genomic palletes, economic efficiency is neither asimple concept nor our only deciding force. Beyond public acceptance of thetechnology, there is also public trend diversity, novelty markets and nichepower to be brokered in this global competition for more unusual food. Weneed to explore the entire range of clonables and widen the variety pool toinclude gourmet, abject and non-utilitarian breeding projects.Practitioners or Historians of Futurism, Surrealism, Abstraction, Minimalismand other Contemporary art movements may all have their own special cow, pigor chicken clone advisory role to play.

What are the cultural aesthetics of our ecological future?

The decision to design livestock along a plurality of aesthetic lineages may have an impact on the future of ecology and diversity of our planet. As competitively designed meat factories take up more and more of the terrestrial grazing land, we have come to understand that we live on a planet dominated by humans and their domestic familiars. Designed and cloned livestock are limited editions but they can reproduce independently. The industry animals may be foreign species brought forth from technology but are they beautiful enough for us to want to live with them for generations to come. Sometimes real time back fat is not enough. There is an economy of aesthetics, which will effect the ecology of our engineered future.

What can an understanding of the arts bring to the table of livestock design?

The history of art may finally come to some use to humanity through agricultural and other replicant applications. This is a great asset and a great way to insure that the future isn't born looking dull, retrograde and a bit too sketchy. The admixture of global variety through genetic engineering and the cloning of spectacular hereditary cascades should only be approved through an aesthetic advisory commission made up of artists, art historians and aesthetics specialists. The future of style depends on collaboration between new reproductive biotechnology and the Arts.

I hope these issues will be taken into account as we sculpt new life from the media of biotechnology.

_ Adam Zaretsky

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Adam Zaretsky & bio-art and education

Adam Zaretsky is a teacher and practitioner of VivoArts: Art and Biolog Studio. Art and Biology is an emerging and politically charged techno-artistic field. Immersion in the world of scientific study exposes artists to the ‘other’ culture and refines their process and commentary.
Often hidden from ideas of free play and improvised action, scientists can glean healthy novelty and even inspiration through close contact with the less regal but often more innovative clan. Included in his Biological Art Practices are such non-laboratory based movements as Live Art, EcoArt, Food Art and Animal Interrelation Art. An active student of Developmental Biology and Transgenic Theory and Practice, Adam believes GMOs are a transnational and diasporic issue for both humans and the rest of the lifeworld. Human desire is reshaping evolution for contentious ends.
Designer babies, goat milk pharmacies, racialised germ warfare… the coming century will prove to be another test of world resiliency in the face of the least mature organismic organization: mediated pop culture.

Some examples of titles of Zaretsky's lectures: "Posthuman Temptation : Eros and Mutagenesis";
"Ooops... The Boners and Blunders of Bioart Practice and Pedagogy"; "Transhumanism from the Inside Out: Flesh Creatives and the Ethics of Body"

Adam Zaretsky is also available for Biotechnology Workshops for Artists or for the Public Understanding of Science. The goal of these workshops is to create an open ended interface between life and the arts. The interfaces between human society, biotechnology and the ecosphere are identified, rethought and collaged together to form signs of definitional breakdown. Demystifying and irreverent, the VivoArts Lecture and Lab Workshops include any or all of the following:

Gooey Flesh Codex: Hybrid DNA extraction
Pure Germ Tech: Fresh Water Microbe Culturing
Biotech Hobbyist: Make Your Own Sterile Hood
Understanding GMOs: Bacterial Transformation
Ecology and Ethics: Seed Broadcasting
Bioethics 1: Developmental Embryology Sculpting
Bioethics 2: Embryonic Stem Cell Tissue Culturing
Body Mix: Live Art and Biology Performance

Zaretsky's article on "The Mutagenic Arts" from CIAC's Electronic Magazine, 2005

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Body Hacking

WorldChanging: has a post discussing a presentation by Quinn Norton about body modification through the language of hacking ethics. Thinking about altering the body in a DIY fashion is indeed interesting, but as this post discusses, medical tourism (something that's been discussed before here, is hardly an accessible DIY activity.

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