Hu.M.C.C.- Human Molecular Colonization Capacity project dwells on the food industry biotechnological production that is in its final form represented as a highly designed yogurt package, containing the product of an artist´s enzyme, which is offered to the public to consume while at the same time the package is represented as a hybrid art readymade object exhibited in a gallery. The project stands as a social darwinism experience set paraphrased within the realm of industrial food chain process.
Hu.M.C.C. project therefore addresses the so-called ‘Soylent Green’ paradigm, where the fear of ecological cataclysm turns into a subtle critique of corporate cannibalism. This paradigm shows the potential of a future, where we could start using our own bodies’ molecular capacity as means of (food) production.
The Hu.M.C.C project offers a food product made by the scientists in the laboratory named:
The Hu.M.C.C. project paraphrases a concept for the waste of productive forces which was explored by Marx, who established a connection between rising levels of accumulation of the capital and the fall of tendential rate of profit, related to the exploitation of time spent at labor – by new waves of technological inovation - which is shown by the genetically transformed microorganism producing lactic acid (as one of the most used additives in the contemporary food industry) after being syntheticaly designed with the code of the artist´s gene composed with the code of a yeast gene and transformed back into the same microorganism.
Therefore the Hu.M.C.C. project dwells in the so called "Soylent Green" paradigm where the fear of ecological cataclysm turns into a subtle critique of corporate cannibalism: not only are corporations actually using people to continue to maintain themselves in their own lives but this same people at the same time yearn for those same products! What has T.R. Malthus understood as the pressure of population on the means of production (which is why there are not enough food/money for all), Marx understood as a means of producing pressure on the population - this infinite desire of capital to continue to develop, no matter if that would include even (sublime) levels of cannibalism.
Conceptual frame // videodocumentation:
Reflecting on the future of evolution, the molecular mechanism of "correction" that maintains the survival of the species confirms that our successors will be different from us. Therefore, in the face of genetically modified organisms the ontology of such insight into the reality triggers anxiety that evokes our versions of previous embodiments that took place during the process of evolution, that is everything we were, but are not presently, and everything we will develop into. Such awareness, as one of the key social psychodynamics,inspires a negative attitude towards the "unclean" and aspires towards the "pure" or unmixed as transcendental primary quality, that interconnects markers of “good” and legitimate, that is to say, authoritarian within the law structures (of nature).
At the same time, the following is interesting: even though the democratic humanistic positions contain a high resistance to the aspirations of the pure race, it is worth asking why we usually feel such great reluctance about crossing between different species, aren´t we then facing our own conservatism?
Taste »as we know it« means its globalization hence the decline in diversity of flavours, which are becoming more uniformed. Consumers may waive the local flavor because of “security”. The result is a rise in prices of food products due to production capacity, which are inversely proportional to the increase in population. By discarding a lot of food, we are moving toward the point of maximum production and therefore there will soon be more people than the food in the world.
1. What is the biotechnological frame of the project?
Genetically modified microorganism – MaSm Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast that contains the artist´s enzyme, produces lactic acid during its primal survival metabolic function - the fermentation process. Lactic acid is amongst the most used aditives in the contemporary food industry.
2. Where has the biotechnological part of the project been executed?
The biotechnological part of the project with the use of five major protocols has been executed at the Institute of biochemistry at the Medical Faculty of the University in Ljubljana in Slovenia.
3. What about the law?
By following all the Europe Union law regulations considering genetically modified organisms and food, the product has been analyzed with the chromatography system at the Biotechnical Faculty of the University in Ljubljana, where it was discovered it is not toxic or however harmful for human health. The product has also been filtered with the 0.2 micrometer filter and does not contain genetically modified organism when brought outside of the laboratory. However since the product has not been registered within the protocols of food industry, every participant needs to sign a form and drink it at his/her own responsibility. The form contains key informations about the biotechnological production and the analysis of the product.
4. How does the project reach public sphere?
Presentation of the project in the gallery starts with the artists venepunction and continues with the real time RNA isolation from her blood executed by two scientists at the openning. During the next two weeks, the author and one of her co-workers are executing each of the protocols which lead them to the yeast microorganism Saccharomyces cerevisiae DNA transformation. The protocols are being executed in the laboratory set in the gallery with the guest laboratory participants – general public which has been offered a possibility to apply to open call for cooperation. The installation also contains a chimeric fermentation process of the transformed yeast and the offered final product – the beverage which transformed yeast made during its fermentation process. All of the equipment has been designed by the author and her co-workers.
5. What about responsibility?
Micro-organism humanized in this way establishes a unique metabolic system artificially produced in a laboratory as a genetically modyfied organism. The fermented product metabolizes lactose into lactic acid which is amongst the most important aditives used in the food industry. And therefore those visitors who choose to consume the final product, at the same time take the responsibility for their own body.
The artist´s gene with the enscription for the enzyme Lactate dehydrogenase has been composed with the Saccharomyces cerevisiae´s gene. As a result of both genes a new synthetic gene has been designed:
Txt by Tilen Konte (Institute for Biochemistry / Medical Faculty / University of Ljubljana / Slovenia)
A great expansion of the world´s human population brings up higher demands for industrial food production every year. Consequently food companies in developed countries have been lately facing decrease in consumption of their products and are therefore in constant competition with each other. Most of them started to produce food with the added value to convince their consumers in its benefit. Some of these foods are dairy products which are most largely consumed foods in western countries. Recent trends in dairy food have been changing from pre- and probiotic-enriched products, which are about to play a big role at the dairy market in the future, to products with well defined health promoting properties called functional foods. Leater have been becoming more and more popular and are thought to be an ultimate future force of the food industry.
There is no officially accepted definition for functional food, actually some argue that many, if not most fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, dairy and meat products contain several natural components that deliver benefits beyond basic nutritions. Examples are: lycopene in tomatoes, omega n-3 fatty acids in salmon or saponins in soy, as well as bioactive peptides in dairy products. Even tea and chocolate have been noted in some studies for containing functional attributes, i.e. attributes beyond the provision of traditional nutrients. The EC Concerted Action on Functional Food Science in Europe (FUFOSE) proposed a working definition of functional food: a food that beneficially affects one or more targeted functions in body beyond adequate nutritional effects in a relevant way either by improving state of health, well-being and/or reduction for the risk of disease. The products are consumed as part of "normal" food patterns since they are not represented as a pill, a capsule or any form of dietary supplements. Functional foods are being largely represented in a scientific magazine "Journal of Functional Foods" since in the near future we can expect functional foods to be designed for specific population groups according to their nutritional needs determined by nutrigenomics.
Maya additionally means “illusion,” “enchantment” or “God’s creative power” in reference to the illusory nature of this world, according to Hindu belief, in which it derives from the Sanskrit “ma” meaning “not” and “ya” meaning “this.” Maya is also used as a pet form of “Amalia” meaning “industrious” or “hardworking.” The name is also associated with “fluid”; means "spring of water" in Hebrew.
The terms: "natural" and "synthetic" are being put under question in the project by adressing the public through the product within the market targeting tactics such as:
Maya YogHurt: With Naturaly produced B Complex Vitamins! Enriched by Human Enzyme Product.
As well as communication of the product´s biotechnological background through it´s logo:
- Bioactive Functional Food Enriched With Human Enzyme Product!
- Repackage Nature! Inspired By, But Not Found In Nature!
- Repackage Nature! How Reprogramable a Cell Can Be?
Hence the project is reflecting on the marketing tactics using new scientific researches since the multifunctional properties of milk peptides appear to offer considerable potential for the development of many similar products in the near future!
Txt by Tilen Konte (Institute for Biochemistry / Medical Faculty / University of Ljubljana / Slovenia)
Interdisciplinary cooperation between scientists and artisans, cooks and artists has recently became a common practice. One of such trends appears in molecular gastronomy (MG), a scientific discipline investigating food and cooking processes. The field has been created in the seventies by the scientists Herve This and Nicolas Kurti. They percepted cooking as an interesting and complex practice which deserves attention at the level of science. What bothered this two men is the fact that although cooking occupies much of our time, we still know very little about what is going on inside our food on a molecular level while we prepare it. hence one of Nicolas´s famous quotes: "I think it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus, we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés." MG uses techniques and methods of food science while investigating food preparation in restaurants and homes, may it be traditional or modern. It uses experimental methods to conduct research and documents created knowledge within the objective and systematically ordered approaches. Since it is mostly executed on a molecular level, one can apply this knowledge to different food systems without spending a lot of time to reinvestigate them. Lately, MG community launched two open acces international scientific magazines: "International Journal of Gastronomy" and "Food Science and Flavour Journal".
Traditional cooking learning uses methods mostly based on time consuming empirical »trial - error« approaches, while its subjective observations often create receipes with false statements and unnecessary steps. MG on the other hand offers special attention to explain or reject those steps. Some of the famous examples are: searing meat holds its juices, the fizzines of champagne can be preserved by puting a spoon at the neck of the bottle, or adding a cork to the cooking water will tenderize octopus, ... etc. Applying MG within professional cooking created some of the famous "Molecular Cooking" or recently developed "Note by Note Cooking" styles. Michelin starred chefs design future trends in restaurant cooking by presenting food as a multisensorial experience with attractive and accessible informations including environmental and ethical components. However there is a danger for technology to overtake the value of the dish in modern cooking styles, since contemporary cooking processes are primarily innovation driven.
The "Molecular Cooking" approach executed in Maya YogHurt product:
Dropping an alginate solution into the calcium rich medium creates spheres of encapsulated product.
The application of MG in Hu.M.C.C. project includes the use of a hydrocolloid polysaccharide called aginate to encapsulate a product of MaSm Saccharomycess cerevisiae 0.2 culture by using the process of spherification. This empirical approach confronts spectators with informations of physics and biochemistry processes used in Maya YogHurt food producion.
Hu.M.C.C. workshop of Maya Yoghurt food production at BioTehna - Platform of Artistic Research of Life Systems / Kapelica Gallery / Ljubljana / Slovenia:
The new waves of technological inovation are imbodied in the microorganism that produces lactic acid (as one of the most used additives in the contemporary food industry) after being syntheticaly designed by the code of the author´s gene composed with the code of a yeast gene and genetically transformed back into the same microorganism.
We know the exact, unambiguous structure of the desired molecule, and can duplicate it unerringly. According to every imaginable test, both in vitro and in vivo, the synthetic version behaves in precisely the same way as a naturally occurring molecule, and this has been verified innumerable times over, since Wohler’s discovery in 1828. It has no “memory” of where it came from, but yet is the same molecule - as in the Maya YogHurt product´s lactic acid molecular structure where the molecular structure of the lactic acid made by the natural microorganism in yogurt is identical to the molecular structure of the lactic acid in the spherified gel product, made by a genetically modified organism (transformed with syntetically produced gene):
Studies show that molecules from red clover and those from soy end up becoming the same thing in your body. Yet some still worry that the molecules they turn into are different, because of their origin. People also fret about whether synthetic vitamins coming out of a lab are different from those isolated from plants. We ideally don’t judge people based on their origin, who raised them, or what country they came from. We ideally judge them by their behavior. Why is it so hard for us to do the same for molecules?
On a gut-response level, natural molecules are assumed as more virtuous than synthetic ones, but a quick glance at some toxic mushrooms, snake venoms, and a multitude of plants will convince you that whether a molecule origins from a plant, a lab bench, or a rock, it can’t be judged until we know how it behaves. A molecule’s source won’t tell us what it does, so we have to be ready for anything.
There used to be a doctrine called “vitalism”, which held that natural (organic) molecules couldn’t be made by man, because they contained some mystic essence or “vital force” that man could not duplicate. In 1828 Friedrich Wohler, a German chemist, used inorganic ammonium cyanate crystals (basically a rock,) to make urea, which is something that organisms make prolifically (in urine). Although it disproved vitalism, the notion that synthetically derived molecules are identical to natural ones is still difficult for most people to trust.
So why are we so inclined to trust natural molecules over synthetic ones? Food labelers knowing this, are branding the term “natural” on a multitude of products, even though it has no legal meaning. Some theories say that we’re soft on natural molecules because we have philosophically isolated ourselves from nature, especially in western religious cultures. Our subconsciously collective decision to separate ourselves from nature, not only confuses our understanding of "natural". it also provides us with a tendency to destroy nature.
The unconscious mental separation of “man” and “nature” has invaded our language and thought. According to taxonomy, there are 4 other choices: bacteria, plants, pond organisms, and fungi. Most people want to feel part of nature what we already are. We just inhabited far more elaborate “nests”. The molecules we make are in most cases no less natural than the molecules other organisms make.
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What is synthetic biology?
Synthetic biology refers to both:
- the design and fabrication of biological components and systems that do not already exist in the natural world
- the re-design and fabrication of existing biological systems.There are two types of synthetic biologists.
First group uses unnatural molecules to mimic natural molecules with the goal of creating artificial life. The second group uses natural molecules and assembles them into a system that acts unnaturally. In general, the goal is to solve problems that are not easily understood through analysis and observation alone and it is only achieved by the manifestation of new models. So far, synthetic biology has produced diagnostic tools for diseases such as HIV and hepatitis viruses as well as devices from biomolecular parts with interesting functions. The term “synthetic biology” was first used on genetically engineered bacteria that were created with recombinant DNA technology which was synonymous with bioengineering. Later the term “synthetic biology” was used as a mean to redesign life which is an extension of biomimetic chemistry, where organic synthesis is used to generate artificial molecules that mimic natural molecules such as enzymes. Synthetic biologists are trying to assemble unnatural components to support Darwinian evolution. Recently, the engineering community has been seeking to extract components from the biological systems to test and confirm them as building units to be reassembled in a way that can mimic the living nature. In the engineering aspect of synthetic biology, the suitable parts are the ones that can contribute independently to the whole system so that the behavior of an assembly can be predicted. DNA consists of double-stranded anti-parallel strands each having four various nucleotides assembled from bases, sugars and phosphates which are made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and phosphorus atoms. In the Watson-Crick model, A pairs with T and G pairs with C although occasionally some diversity exists. This simplification doesn’t exist in proteins. With analysis and observation alone, scientists convince themselves that the paradigms are the truth and if the data contradicts the theory, the data normally is discarded as an error, where synthesis encourages scientists to cross into the new land and define new theories. The same synthesis has long been used in chemistry such as chromatography. The combination of chemistry, biology and engineering can therefore create artificial Darwinian systems.
What is the difference between synthetic biology and systems biology?
Systems biology studies complex biological systems as integrated wholes, using tools of modeling, simulation, and comparison to experiment. The focus tends to be on natural systems, often with some (at least long term) medical significance. Synthetic biology studies how to build artificial biological systems for engineering applications, using many of the same tools and experimental techniques. But the work is fundamentally an engineering application of biological science, rather than an attempt to do more science. The focus is often on ways of taking parts of natural biological systems, characterizing and simplifying them, and using them as a component of a highly unnatural, engineered, biological system.
Biologists are interested in synthetic biology because it provides a complementary perspective from which to consider, analyze, and ultimately understand the living world. Being able to design and build a system is also a very practical measure of understanding. Physicists, chemists and others are interested in synthetic biology as an approach with which to probe the behavior of molecules and their activity inside living cells. For example, differences between how a synthetic system is designed to behave and how it actually behaves can serve to highlight relevant intracellular physics. Engineers are interested in synthetic biology because the living world provides a seemingly rich yet largely unexplored medium for controlling and processing information, materials, and energy. Learning how to effectively harness the power of the living world will be a major engineering undertaking.
Why does synthetic biology redesign bacterium?
By re-designing/refactoring a simple living system synthetic biologists hope to learn how to better couple (and decouple) our designed systems from their host environment.Life isn't digital.
Why does synthetic biology try to implement digital logic in cells?
As engineers we are much better at thinking and designing digital systems. One reason we are better at digital system design is that such systems create an 'abstraction barrier' between the detailed device physics level and the system design and operation levels.
Is what you're doing dangerous?
Many technologies have the potential to be dangerous either through their direct application or through society's (inappropriate) reliance on their continued successful operation. Imaginable hazards associated with synthetic biology include (a) the accidental release of an unintentionally harmful organism or system, (b) the purposeful design and release of an intentionally harmful organism or system, (c) a future over-reliance on our ability to design and maintain engineered biological systems in an otherwise natural world. In response to these concerns we are (a) working only with Biosafety Level 1 organisms and components in approved research facilities, (b) working to educate and train a responsible generation of biological engineers and scientists, (c) learning what is possible (at what cost) using simple test systems. All told, we believe that the understanding and abilities to be gained from synthetic biology justifies its responsible exploration and development. More recently, MIT, the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md., and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. have announced a new study of the societal implications of synthetic genomics. Press releases: MIT, CSIS and Venter Institute. More information are available at Synthetic Genomics Study.
What about ethical or moral issues?
Do we inherit and passively pass along the living world or do we have a responsibility to interact rationally with it? If we are going to interact with the living world should we ground this interaction at a level of resolution (i.e., molecular) that allows for the precise description of our actions and their consequences? We don't presume to know all the answers to these questions (and others) but we hope to participate in a thoughtful discussion of such issues.
What technologies would benefit synthetic biology?
Fast and cheap DNA sequencing and synthesis would allow a rapid design, fabrication, and testing of systems. Software tools that enable system design and simulation are also needed. Still-better measurement technologies that allow for observation of biological system state (i.e., the equivalent of a biological debugger) are also needed.
What is the current commercial availability for de-novo gene synthesis? Has this technology become competitive with standard gene cloning in terms of cost per base and time?
Current synthesis costs are about $1 per base pair. Current synthesis times for a 1,500 bp gene are of order 4 weeks. So, we need a ~3-fold reduction in cost and a ~10-fold reduction in turn-around time, from where we are today for commercial DNA synthesis to be competitive with standard gene cloning. Such a cost reduction could play out within the next two years; however, changes in turn-around time are much harder to predict.
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Concept and execution: Maja Smrekar
Brand identity and web design: Atelje Balant
The project has been executed in cooperation with Institute of Biochemistry, Medical Faculty, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Co-worker at the filed of molecular biology: dr. Metka Lenassi
Co-worker at the field of molecular gastronomy: Tilen Konte
Co-worker at the field of biotechnology: dr. Špela Petrič
Coding: Oliver Marčetič
Photo: Miha Fras (for Kapelica Gallery); Matej Kristovič (for SOFT CONTROL: Art, Science and the Technological Unconscious); Jože Suhadolnik (Delo newspaper)
Special thanks: dr. Ana Plemenitaš, Shu Lea Cheang, Jurij Krpan, Janez Bratovž - JB Restaurant, Savica Soldat, Center for Contemporary Arts Celje and Biotechnology Department / Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment / Republic of Slovenia - dr. Martin Batič, dr. Ruth Rupreht
Supported by Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport/Republic of Slovenia and Municipality of Ljubljana / Slovenia
Production: Kapelica Gallery - Zavod K6/4 / Ljubljana / Slovenia