Genetic Art/Engineers Create Pigs' Wings
I couldn't ignore this story. I am sure Lewis Carroll
portrayed the image of flying pigs as a narcotic induced fantasy or perhaps a joke of pure fiction when he penned the lyrics
for "The Walrus And The Carpenter."
Carroll would, no doubt, have a real chuckle if he knew
that two young genetic "artists" were crossing genes and experimenting with making pigs' wings.
The work by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, at the University
of Western Australia, is part of a project called Tissue Culture
They say they looked at the statement "pigs could fly"
as "typical of the kind of unrealistic biotech type stuff being said and decided to literally grow pigs wings both as a critique
and to explore the patent absurdity of it."
The project "represents our response as artists to the
near future which contains semi-living entities objects that are partly alive and partly constructed. They raise huge ethical
and epistemological questions which people haven't begun to think about."
It took some scientific ingenuity to pull it off. The
two artists said they harvested pig bone marrow stem cells from other scientific experimenting and then grew them in two-dimensional
layers for about four months.
At that point, the growing objects were wrapped around
biopolymer constructs or grown in tissue flasks to create "cell suspensions that were seeded onto constructs in a microgravity
bioreactor" so they were now growing in three dimensional form.
"Once we had the semi-living tissue wings, we fixed them
with formalin, then dried and coated them with gold to preserve them."
Thus instant death for living cellular structured wings.
That the act of gold plating kills the tissue is described
as "one of the many ambiguities" of the project say Catts and Zurr. "We are showing both live and dead pig wings in galleries."
Using a technique learned from artist Adam Zaretsky, who
experimented at Harvard with vibrations in music to stimulate the growth of cells, the team said they played "pig songs" to
the cells while they were in the bioreactor to help them grow.
During the experiment, three different shapes of wings
were produced. They ranged from angelic or bird type, to vampire or bat wings and those of the ancient pterosaurs. "We added
the cultural colors that go with them; blue for angelic, red for evil and green for the dinosaurs."
How was the project received? The team said some people were interested, while others were both
insulted and repulsed. The general public seemed to feel "challenged by the discrepancy between our cultural view of what
life is, and by what we can now do with bioengineering."