Sunday, July 17, 2016

Biotechnology and Art

The microvenus project by Joe Davis was the first
non-biological message encoded in DNA
Of the major sciences, the discipline of biotechnology integrates with art as seamlessly as any other. Joe Davis is the pioneer who first mixed biotech and art. Davis is an artist who convinced scientists to teach him how to synthesize DNA and insert it into a living genome. Davis often came up with ideas that scientists considered extremely dangerous and crazy. As scrutinized as most of his ideas are, he poses important questions about the meaning of life and breaks boundaries that most people are afraid to venture into. His most popular work is genetically engineering and sending a message to potential extra-terrestrials into space using the E. coli bacteria of a microvenus.

A consumer chemistry set demonstrates how
easy it is for DIY experiments
While amazing things like the double helix DNA structure can be accredited to biotech and art, it is still a very controversial topic with many dangerous aspects. There is much scrutiny with the emerging do it yourself (DIY) biotech practices from curious people playing around with at home lab equipment in their garage. A very real threat is possible with someone playing around with the wrong mixture of materials and creating a superbug that scientists are unable to cure. Because this is such a new industry with lab equipment becoming cheaper and more accessible to the amateur scientist, there are no strict restrictions and limitations in the law.
Federal agents in hazmat suits raid
Steve Kurtz house

Artist Steve Kurtz was arrested in 2004 after calling 911 to report the death of his wife when police discovered his at home lab of petri dishes containing biological specimens for an art project of his. Kurtz was later released when the Commissioner of Public Health for New York State deemed that nothing in the home posed a dangerous threat. In order to ensure public safety there needs to be more stringent rules for artists and scientists that work with biotech unsupervised. Although their intentions may not be malicious, there are still very real possibilities of a mistake in the lab occurring and creating a hazardous unstoppable virus. It would be much safer if there were regulations that made sure artists worked in approved spaces that are able to contain any such mistakes that may occur.


Vesna, Victoria. "Biotech and Art." Web. 8 May 2016. 
Levy, Ellen K. Defining Life: Artists Challenge Convetional Classification. PDF.
Kelty, Chris. Meanings of Participation: Outlaw Biology? PDF.
Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 18 July 2016.
Schuler, Barry. "Genomics 101." TED. June 2008. Web. 8 May 2016.


Agapakis, Christina. "Communicating with Aliens through DNA." Scientific American Blog Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 July 2016.
"Strontium." Pictures, Stories, and Facts about the Element in the Periodic Table. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 July 2016.
"Research Is Not Terrorism: Steve Kurtz | Arts Catalyst." Research Is Not Terrorism: Steve Kurtz | Arts Catalyst. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 July 2016.

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