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Bio-objects

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41

Project log

Lucia Martinelli
added 4 research items
microRNAs (miRNAs), short RNAs of 21-25 nucleotides, are implied in gene expression and regulation, in biological processes and in human pathologies including cancer. Since miRNAs of plant origin can survive digestion and cooking and enter in animal (including human) sera and tissues, their intervention in mammalian gene expression and regulation might be expected. Mouse experimental feeding, in fact, showed that a miRNA class (MIR168a) is involved in accumulation of the low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the major cholesterol-carrying lipoprotein of human plasma. Considering LDL's role in atherosclerosis, a negative influence of miRNAs from food origin on our health may be expected. Here we concentrate on the miRNAs' capability to cross inter-kingdom boundaries through the diet and acting as a "boundary crawler." The boundary between plant and human is presented under a new perspective, where a new intimate relationship between two genomes - mammalian and plant - belonging to quite different kingdoms is proposed. The food's role as molecule carrier in our health is also discussed. miRNAs, finally, are presented as an example of "bio-objects" with impact on both medical and cultural issues.
The immortal HeLa cells case is an intriguing example of bio-objectification processes with great scientific, social, and symbolic impacts. These cells generate questions about representation, significance, and value of the exceptional, variety, individuality, and property. Of frightening (a lethal cancer) and emarginated (a black, poor woman) origins, with their ability to "contaminate" cultures and to "spread" into spaces for becoming of extraordinary value for human knowledge, well-being, and economy advancements, HeLa cells have represented humanity, and emphasized the importance of individual as a core concept of the personalized medicine. Starting from the process leading from HeLa "cells" to HeLa "bio-objects," we focus on their importance as high quality bio-specimen. We discuss the tension between phenomenological characteristic of fundamental biological research and the variety of material and methodologies in epidemiology and personalized medicine. The emerging methodologies and societal changes reflect present EU policies and lead toward a new paradigm of science.
Lucia Martinelli
added a research item
Cisgenesis is a genetic modification of a recipient organism with genetic material from a crossable organism. Trying to free cisgenics from the regulatory guidelines of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), some scientists have suggested to classify the genetically modified products by the origin of transferred genes. Aiming at exploring how scientists frame cisgenics in relation to current legal frameworks, we have sent an extensive survey to the totality of researchers working on cisgenics. Trying to provide cisgenics with a new, uncontroversial identity, the respondents present cisgenics as a method of obtaining “natural,” environmentally friendly and economically sustainable crops. However, such strategy is challenged by GMO corporations opposing a segmentation of the sector, and by the opponents of GMOs, who fear that deregulation on cisgenics leads to the deregulation of GMOs. Drawing from the concepts of bio-objectification and bio-identification, we show how the status of this bio-object is likely to remain contested and contestable.
Lucia Martinelli
added 2 research items
Genetically modified (GM) food is discussed as an example of the controversial relation between the intrinsic uncertainty of the scientific approach and the demand of citizen-consumers to use products of science innovation that are known to be safe. On the whole, peer-reviewed studies on GM food safety do not note significant health risks, with a few exceptions, like the most renowned "Pusztai affair" and the recent "Seralini case." These latter studies have been disregarded by the scientific community, based on incorrect experimental designs and statistic analysis. Such contradictory results show the complexity of risk evaluation, and raise concerns in the citizen-consumers against the GM food. A thoughtful consideration by scientific community and decision makers of the moral values that are present in risk evaluation and risk management should be the most trustable answer to citizen-consumers to their claim for clear and definitive answers concerning safety/un-safety of GM food.
I’ll present the science-theatre model we developed as a tool for representing the bio-social meanings of some biotechnology innovations (‘bio-objects’), such as human and animal cloning, de-extinction and biobanking. Scientific explanation and multimedia artistic representation were suitable to deliver knowledge and new insights and to engage debates, also by reaching the public’s emotions. The choice of the most suitable examples was crucial. Among the others, the case of HeLa cells (the first immortalized cell line established in the late ‘50s from Henrietta Lacks’ rare cervix adenocarcinoma) proved to be a suitable paradigmatic example. Hints for the public are their capability to challenge conventional natural, cultural, scientific and institutional orderings and to generate controversies. The invasive (an aggressive lethal cancer) immortal HeLa cells of emarginated origin (a poor, black woman) are emotionally impacting in their usefulness for generating precious knowledge and biomedical innovations as well as to produce commercial value. The public can be engaged in their social and symbolic impacts, raising questions about representation, significance and value of the exceptional, variety, individuality and property. Finally, HeLa cells also allow to be proposed as a suggestive lens for interpreting crucial key words of our multicultural and complex society, among them, cultural ‘diversity’ and ‘contamination’.
Lucia Martinelli
added a research item
The adoption of regulations concerning transgenic food is expected to ensure consumers that authorized products have been deemed safe. The majority of scientists agree on the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs); however, contradictory reports on health risks associated with GMOs have appeared in the scientific literature, supporting the conclusion that risk assessment is a science of uncertainty that requires more than just scientific knowledge. To build trust and solve the controversy between the intrinsic uncertainty of science and the demand for safety coming from the citizens-consumers, the scientific community together with industry and policymakers should set up an open, self-reflexive, and multidisciplinary process of technology assessment in which scientific knowledge is integrated by societal knowledge proceeding from different social actors. The scientific community, in particular, should also openly acknowledge the existence of uncertainties and risks and ensure that research on GMO safety is not dependent on the positions of large corporations. In a way, institutions deputed to the advancement of scientific knowledge should promote themselves as a new agora and become central meeting points where all can engage in science innovations, learn, and share expertise and experience. The final goal is to enable citizens to acquire the necessary tools for building up the democratic possibility to choose among present and future options enabled by biology innovations and become active actors of the society of knowledge.