UK 2029: Post-Natural Artefacts from the United Kingdom of England and Wales
Curated by Eva Auer, Sean Greaves and Joseph Revans
UK 2029 envisions a future post-Brexit United Kingdom within which legislation regarding the open release of genetically modified organisms is significantly relaxed, helping to kick start a consumer biotechnology sector at the forefront of synthetic biology research. This decision accelerates the commercialisation of biotechnologies, allowing companies to field test products and release them to the market. However, the change in legislation also empowers members of the DIY-bio community, allowing them to design – and more importantly use – bespoke biological solutions to their unique requirements.
The project is presented as three fictional case studies which explore how communities existing today could navigate this future and utilise biotechnologies unique capabilities to pursue their goals. Underpinned by research into the current capabilities of biotechnologies, the political agendas of existing communities in the United Kingdom, and the growth of DIY-bio; UK 2029 speculates on how these threads could intertwine and shape one another in the near future. Could the real biotech revolution happen from the ground up, driven by enthusiasts working outside the structures and agendas of industry, commerce and academia?
UK 2029 seeks to stimulate discussion about who should able to genetically modify organisms, what should be deemed to be acceptable reasons to do so?
Security and Protection – Dispersed Maker Communities
The government is responding to the Increased uptake in DIY bioengineers developing their own microbial products for private use by increasing their microbial surveillance within public spaces and airports. Coupled with the increased presence of patent trolls looking to exploit peer-peer DIY innovations, people are beginning to experiment with radical methods of protecting and concealing their creations from being stolen or taken from them.
One such procedure involves embedding tiny implant pouches within the skin to temporarily store their microbial factories, via a needle transfer.
Contained within inconspicuous pimple-like sites within the skin, the implant maintains their creations at perfect temperatures for survival whilst protecting the host from infection.
Biohacked Buildings – London
Over the past 10 years, one of the most controversial uses of genetic modification has been the biohacking of properties in areas of East and South London. Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, housing prices in London continued to escalate wildly, with increasing numbers of properties being bought as an investment and sitting empty.
Anarchists such as the ORALS (Order of Rampaging Anarchist Life Scientists), respond to these conditions through utilising open source – or pirated – genes accessed online to combat societal issues facing low income communities. In an effort to devalue empty properties in London the group began injecting genetically modified fungi into brickwork, designed to grow through the walls and release airborne non-toxic hallucinogenic particles within the building’s interior. Widely considered as invasive, properties colonised by these fungi are significantly devalued due to the public’s decisive perceptions of hallucinogens.
Wildflower Protests – Sheffield
As you walk through the neighbourhood you live in, you’ve probably encountered a bank of wildflowers covered in neon blue bruises. What you are seeing is the result of the world’s first gene-drive as protest, which utilised the agency of living things to propagate through their environment as a means of spreading a political message.
Over the past 10 years within university labs, multiple species of wildflowers have been modified to contain a genetic switch which flood their petals with mTurquoise chromoproteins when grown in soils contaminated with high levels of heavy metals. This modification was engineered to ensure its inheritance to all offspring of the flowers, allowing it to spread through existing wildflower populations.
The deliberate release of the modified flower seeds via bird-feeders was perpetrated by a renegade researcher, intending to make visible the enduring environmental legacy of industry dismantled during the 1980s, which severely impacting the welfare of working class communities. The economic benefits of these industries for the workers has gone, but its contamination remains, and continuing to impact the health of the area’s current population.