February 7, 2014
Human Bacteria Cheese And GM Elvis Mice
Public Health Warning – what you are about to read may put you off food. Be warned.
In a recent exhibition at the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, a mixture of “bio-hackers,” artists, designers, scientists, and engineers came together to demonstrate “synthetic biology” and design “living machines.” Some of the exhibits were wonderfully gross, but the exhibition had a serious purpose, that of exploring the boundaries between humans, the natural world, and machines.
SELFMADE – an installation by Christina Agapakis and Sissel Tolaas – takes the human body as a “superorganism,” a combination of both human and microbial cells and challenges traditional concepts of health and disease. It contains “microbial” sketches, which are in effect a number of cheeses created from the microbes that live in and on people. Each cheese began as a starter culture taken from a different individual and each resultant cheese has a different odor reflecting that individual’s bacterial landscape. Some were definitely of the “stinky” variety. There is a Brie grown from one of the artists’ armpits and a Cheddar from another’s mouth. The artists’ hope is that humans, who deliberately cultivate bacterial growths in fermented foods and cheeses with smells that resemble those of feet and armpits, will learn to tolerate similar cultures on their own bodies. Good luck with that.
In the BANANA BACTERIA exhibit, Howard Boland presents an “olfactory work that explores the paradox of having the foul smell of E.coli bacteria exchanged with the sweet smell of banana.”
STRANGER VISIONS. Not everything in the exhibition was edible. American artist Feather Dewey-Hagborg created a series of 3D-printed heads that are the result of a bizarre DNA collection program. Realizing that the streets of Dublin’s fair city were littered with human detritus like chewing gum and cigarette butts. She collected the cigarette stubs and had the DNA extracted. This gave her the information she needed on such things as hair and eye color, as well as the potential for obesity, to produce a likeness of the individual who left their genetic code on the street.
ALL THAT I AM – the “Elvis Mouse model” – is a collection of made-to-order mice clones in which the poor little beasties have had their DNA genetically combined with that from Elvis’s own hair that artist Koby Barhard bought on eBay. The mice were then subjected to a simulation of the “significant biographical circumstances of Elvis’s life.” For example, one cage has a mirror distorting the mouse’s image to increase its sense of self-importance and so reflecting the effects of fame, while another has a treadmill on which the Elvis mouse runs until it falls off, symbolizing the death of the King. Tongues must be firmly kept in cheeks for this one.
THE GREAT WORK OF THE METAL LOVER recreates the ancient attempts of Alchemists to produce the noble metal of gold from base metals, but with far more success. Colonies of anaerobic microbes are grown in a synthetic biological system and then used to precipitate 24 carat gold from solutions of soluble gold compounds, such as gold chloride, which are toxic to most living beings. The Earth’s oceans, rivers, and lakes contain trillions of dollars’ worth of suspended gold and this exhibit demonstrates not only how microbes can extract the gold, but also the possibility that they all played a part in the formation of Earth’s gold deposits.
These are just a few of the displays in Dublin. Although the exhibition is now closed, all the displays can be viewed online.
Image Credit: Thinkstock