PRESS RELEASE: DYNAMIC GENETICS VS. MANN

BY: Jon

Over at the Superflux Lab, for the past few months, we’ve been engaged in a research project exploring the politcal and economic implications of synthetic biology and gene therapy. Whilst the research continues, one realisation of the project is now being exhibited at Ars Electronica, and so it’s great to be able to finally share what we’re been working on.

For full information about this project visit our work page.

 

PRESS RELEASE, SUPERFLUX: DYNAMIC GENETICS vs. MANN

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From tissue biopsy samples to an improvised CO2 incubator used in the manufacture of counterfeit genetic therapies, ‘Dynamic Genetics vs. Mann’ presents a body of evidence from a fictional court case. Unfolding as a rich narrative, this new project from Superflux explores a world where designed and patented genetic material enters the human body through illicit means.

 

This work forms part of ‘Project Genesis’, curator Matthew Gardiner’s flagship exhibition at the Ars Electronica Centre in Linz, Austria. It opened  to the public on Friday 2nd August, and is part of the Ars Electronica festival in September 2013.

‘Dynamic Genetics v Mann’ was commissioned by Design Interactions Research Department at the Royal College of Art, and has been realised as part of Studiolab; a three-year initiative funded by the European Commission 7th Framework Program. 

 

SUMMARY
History has shown that political and economic forces exert as great an influence on the development and application of technology as the aspirations of scientists and engineers. ‘Dynamic Genetics vs. Mann’ explores the technological trajectory of synthetic biology, extrapolating from current social, economic and political trends so as to locate the technology within a broader cultural landscape.

This project imagines a world in which synthetic biology and gene therapy have moved from the lab to the marketplace. In this world, the responsibilities of the state have shifted from healthcare to the provision of health insurance. By calculating the likely impact of specific gene combinations, insurance rates are adjusted on a person-by-person basis, ensuring that individual ‘contributions’ more accurately reflect the potential costs associated with their genome.

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What new legal and economic models might emerge under these conditions? How will intellectual property be applied and policed when designed genetic material makes its way into people’s bodies and their lives? Who are the winners and losers in such a world?

 

THE EXHIBIT

 

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The primary plot of ‘Dynamic Genetics vs. Mann’ reveals the increasing vulnerability of protagonist Arnold Mann, an ‘ordinary citizen’ whose insurance contributions spike dramatically after a regulatory spit test from the NHI (National Health Insurance) reveals elevated risks across a range of chronic health conditions in his genetic profile. Caught between an inflated health levy and the staggering cost of private treatment, a desperate Arnold turns to a black market clinic for a gene upgrade. This treatment will reduce his health insurance bill at the cost of permanently modifying his DNA with patented, but unlicensed therapy.

The collection of evidence presented in the exhibition, including an interrogation video, alongside other corroboratory, forensic, scientific, digital and material evidences, make a strong case against Mann, who is accused by Dynamic Genetics, a major corporation in the genetic therapy industry, of illegally possessing their proprietary DNA. Items including tissue biopsy samples, covert surveillance photographs, genetic search warrant, ‘found’ documents, newspaper clippings, and an improvised CO2 incubator, are presented by G5P, a private security agency hired by Dynamic Genetics to carry out the investigation.

Visitors to the work are encouraged to explore the body of evidence, piecing together this foreboding story that questions the ethical and economic implications of the new forms of genetic technology that are quietly transforming our world.

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CONTEXT
The project ‘Dynamic Genetics vs. Mann’ takes place in the United Kingdom, following government efforts to privatise and outsource services previously undertaken by the NHS (National Health Service). The project also takes into account large-scale citizen DNA databases, big data, and the growing popularity of companies like 23andMe, which allow customers to exchange small samples of their saliva for access to information about likely health risks based on their genetic information – with many unwittingly ceding their genetic privacy in the process. We are already witnessing the rise in private companies’ attempts to patent genetics in order to secure profits as well as established industries going to evermore extreme lengths to protect intellectual property.

Projecting forward from our current economic and political landscape, these and other developments provide governments and large corporations with the opportunity to create proprietary health-related services, often at the expense of the privacy, rights, and individual agency of ordinary citizens.

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CREDITS
Dynamic Genetics vs. Mann is project by Jon Ardern and Anab Jain from Superflux, London, UK. The project has been realised with the valuable creative support of Megan Rodger, Minsung Wang, Raphael Pluvinage, Patrick Stevenson-Keating, Elvira Grob, Tobias Revell and Joe Duggan.

The designers would like to thank scientific advisors Cathal Garvey and Christina Agapakis for their support and critique, and Anthony Dunne, Fiona Raby, Rob Carlson and David Benque for their encouragement throughout the project.

All the evidences from the case will be presented on a dedicated website, which we will share very soon. Meanwhile if you’d like to know more, drop us a line at hello@superflux.in.

 

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