UK 2029 envisions a future post-Brexit United Kingdom within which legislation regarding the open release of genetically modified organisms is significantly relaxed.
Presented as three fictional case studies, the project explores how fringe communities existing today could navigate this future and utilise the capabilities of biotechnologies to pursue their goals. While narratives regarding synthetic biology are dominantly focused on industry and commerce, UK 2029 considers syn-bio's potential impact on protest and activism.
Who should be able to genetically modify organisms? And what should be deemed acceptable reasons to do so?
UK 2029 timeline:
Case study 1: Subdermal microbial storage
In response to an increased uptake in DIY bioengineers developing their own microbial products for private use, the government has increased their microbial surveillance within public spaces and airports. Coupled with the growing presence of patent trolls looking to exploit peer-to-peer DIY innovations, biohackers 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 designed microbes 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.
Case study 2: Biohacked buildings
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 groups such as the ORALS (Order of Rampaging Anarchist Life Scientists) respond to these conditions through utilising open source genes accessed online to combat societal issues faced by 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.
Case study 3: Wildflower protests
As you walk through the neighbourhood you live in, you have probably encountered a bank of poppies 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 poppies have been modified to contain a genetic switch which floods 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 poppy populations.
The deliberate release of the modified flower seeds via bird-feeders was perpetrated by a renegade researcher. They intended to make visible the enduring environmental legacy of the industries dismantled during the 1980s. While the economic benefits of these industries for the workers have gone, their contamination remains, continuing to impact the health of the area’s current population.
UK 2029 at the BioDesign Challenge summit:
© 2018 Joseph Revans