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Biotech: Life by Contagion

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This article will discuss recent developments in genetic engineering in relation to nonlinear dynamics of evolution such as endosymbiosis, re-theorized by Lynn Margulis in the 1970s. These dynamics contribute to mapping the nonlinear processes of information transmission that have come to define life beyond inert and entropic matter. As Margulis argues, genetic engineering does not simply manipulate life. Rather, it takes as its model the symbiotic trading of information between bacteria (non-nucleated cells that do not reproduce through sexual mating). In other words, she points out, bacteria invented the genetic engineering of cellular bodies across species barriers 3900 million years ago. In this sense, genetic engineering marks the re-emergence of a new (but ancient) mode of sex and reproduction, bacterial sex. Such re-emergence, far from defining an imitation of bacteria, points to a new modulation of life: the acceleration of the variables of life or the emerging mutations of matter. Challenging the Darwinian and neo-Darwinian models of evolution (the arborescent line of genetic descent), the molecular sciences and technologies of genetic engineering (i.e. endosymbiosis) contribute to redefining life as a turbulent auto-catalytic assembly of bacterial colonies. Drawing on Bergson's creative evolution and Deleuze and Guattari's machinic nature, the article will lay out the asymmetric relation between emergent dynamics of engineered life and what they emerge from (virtual matter).

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... The chapter begins by providing a brief overview of bioinformatics and discusses the implications this emerging industry has for educational governance. We discuss how data and life morphs, mutates, and changes -without human intervention -by drawing on Luciana Parisi's (2007Parisi's ( , 2013 concept of contagion. In her work on artificial intelligence, Parisi (2007: 32) argued that the life is produced through 'contagious transmission rather than filiative heredity'. ...
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New technological ability is leading postdigital science, where biology as digital information, and digital information as biology, are now dialectically interconnected. In this chapter we firstly explore a philosophy of biodigitalism as a new paradigm closely linked to bioinformationalism. Both involve the mutual interaction and integration of information and biology, which leads us into discussion of biodigital convergence. As a unified ecosystem, this allows us to resolve problems that isolated disciplinary capabilities cannot, creating new knowledge ecologies within a constellation of technoscience. To illustrate our arrival at this historical flash point via several major epistemological shifts in the post-war period, we venture a tentative typology. The convergence between biology and information reconfigures all levels of theory and practice, and even critical reason itself now requires a biodigital interpretation oriented towards ecosystems and coordinated Earth systems. In this understanding, neither the digital humanities, the biohumanities, nor the posthumanities sit outside of biodigitalism. Instead, posthumanism is but one form of biodigitalism that mediates the biohumanities and the digital humanities, no longer preoccupied with the tradition of the subject, but with the constellation of forces shaping the future of human ontologies. This heralds a new biopolitics which brings the philosophy of race, class, gender, and intelligence, into a compelling dialog with genomics and information.KeywordsBiodigitalismBioinformationalismBiopoliticsPostdigitalConvergenceKnowledge ecologyTechnoscienceDigital humanitiesBiohumanitiesPosthumanismPhilosophyEpistemologyOntology
... The chapter begins by providing a brief overview of bioinformatics and discusses the implications this emerging industry has for educational governance. We discuss how data and life morphs, mutates, and changes -without human intervention -by drawing on Luciana Parisi's (2007Parisi's ( , 2013 concept of contagion. In her work on artificial intelligence, Parisi (2007: 32) argued that the life is produced through 'contagious transmission rather than filiative heredity'. ...
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This chapter explores the connections between the bio and the digital in the construction of ‘bioinformation’ and ‘biodigital convergence’. The site of examination of these connections is medical understandings of the body. Its focus is the notion of ontology in two related senses, philosophical and technical. The chapter considers the connections between, on the one hand, the immaterial understanding reflected in medical knowledge—in philosophical terms ‘the ideal’ or ideational—and on the other, the material, biological realities of bodies. In a technical sense, the chapter discusses medical ontologies in a computer science frame of reference, and the emergence in recent years of ‘knowledge graphs’ for their representation. On these philosophical and technical bases, the chapter goes on to discuss a research and development project in which the authors have been engaged, to develop a web-based knowledge graphing environment, with a wide range of potential sites of applications, one to support medical students in clinical case analysis, and the other to build medical logic visualizations to supplement electronic health records.KeywordsKnowledge graphsOntologiesMedical informaticsMedical educationElectronic health records
... The chapter begins by providing a brief overview of bioinformatics and discusses the implications this emerging industry has for educational governance. We discuss how data and life morphs, mutates, and changes -without human intervention -by drawing on Luciana Parisi's (2007Parisi's ( , 2013 concept of contagion. In her work on artificial intelligence, Parisi (2007: 32) argued that the life is produced through 'contagious transmission rather than filiative heredity'. ...
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n this chapter we are concerned with how presupposed ideas of life animate dead educational practices, often through viral racist practices. Notwithstanding the philosophical neglect that ‘life’ has received, today we grapple with new developments in bioinformatics that encourages a rethinking of what constitutes life. Rather than understanding life within humanist traditions (e.g., a contained subject position), we propose a speculative reading of bioinformatics as a particular moment of ‘excess contagion’. We argue that bioinformatics is a scientific and technological force that exceeds enclosures, but one that education will try to harness in order to widen its own limits, particularly through the optimization of human capital. If bioinformatics can simultaneously equalize and exacerbate unequal forms of life, we conclude paradoxically, that accelerating this bioinformatic moment might instantiate a ‘decoloniality of informatics’ through the proliferation of contagious, uncertain, errant, necrotic, and mutant life. Rather than reform education and its anti/racist declarations of vitalist life, we suggest an accelerated use of ‘contagious bioinformatics’ as a way to proliferate unknown becomings for new kinds of intra-connectivity, especially between human and inhuman networks of relationality.
... The chapter begins by providing a brief overview of bioinformatics and discusses the implications this emerging industry has for educational governance. We discuss how data and life morphs, mutates, and changes -without human intervention -by drawing on Luciana Parisi's (2007Parisi's ( , 2013 concept of contagion. In her work on artificial intelligence, Parisi (2007: 32) argued that the life is produced through 'contagious transmission rather than filiative heredity'. ...
Chapter
This dialogue (trilogue) is an attempt to critically discuss the technoscientific convergence that is taking place with biodigital technologies in the postdigital condition. In this discussion, Sarah Hayes, Petar Jandrić and Michael A. Peters examine the nature of the convergences, their applications for bioeconomic sustainability and associated ecopedagogies. The dialogue chapter raises issues of definition and places the technological convergence (‘nano-bio-info-cogno’) – of new systems biology and digital technologies at the nano level – in an evolutionary context to speculate, on the basis of the latest research, future possibilities. The chapter also reviews these developments within familiar landscapes of posthumanism and postmodernism, raises the question of political bioeconomy and the role of postdigital education within it.KeywordsPostdigitalBiodigitalismBioinformationalismBiopoliticsBioeconomyConvergenceKnowledge ecologyTechnoscience
... P. Taylor Webb (TW), Marcelina Piotrowski (MP), and Petra Mikulan (PM) to reflect upon their symposium entitled Contagious Life and Education's Erratic Encounters with Informatics, presented during the New Materialist Informatics conference, 24 March 2021. The symposium used Luciana Parisi's (2007Parisi's ( , 2013 idea of "contagion" to examine the transmogrifying aspects of informatics and data in education. The conversation is guided by three questions designed to provide participants ways to reflect upon their symposium, their respective research programmes, and additional insights into their innovative and exciting work. ...
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The use of data to govern education is increasingly supported by the use of knowledge-based technologies, including algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI), and tracking technologies. Rather than accepting these technologies as possibilities to improve, reform, or more efficiently practice education, this intra-view discusses how these technologies portend possibilities to escape education. The intra-view revolves around Luciana Parisi's idea of "digital contagions" and participants muse about the contagious opportunities to escape the biopolitical, colonial, and historical rationalities that contemporary education now uses to govern populations in ways that are automated, modulated, and wearable.
... The interest in biosecurity, biosafety, bioeconomy, bioengineering, and bioterrorism, by disciplines so diverse as medicine, economy or ecology speaks volumes about this (Dobson, Barker and Taylor, 2013). In this vein, it is possible to say that in Sociology and Philosophy vitalism has been one of the main interests in the last decade (Caygill, 2007;Fraser, Kember and Lury, 2006;Lazzarato, 2014Lazzarato, /2015Mullarkey, 2007;Olma and Koukouzelis, 2007;Parisi, 2007). The debates about 'The posthuman' (Cecchetto, 2013;Gray, 2001;Haney, 2006;Hayles, 1999) and the 'new materialism' (Barrett and Bolt, 2012;Coole and Frost, 2010;Crockett and Robbins, 2012;Lemke, 2014;Pfeifer, 2015) are directly linked with the discussion about vitalism and with the urgent process of reconceptualisation of living. ...
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We propose a vitalist reading of Michel Foucault’s work going beyond the mainstream interpretation that divides his proposals into three dimensions: knowledge, power and subjectivation. We will start our interpretation with her last text: “Life: Experience and Science”. This text contains three important elements. First, it offers a deep reflection about the meaning of ‘life’ in the work of one of Foucault’s Masters, Georges Canguilhem. Second, it pays tribute to the value of his work in the transformation of philosophy. Finally, it offers reinterpretation of Foucault’s own work. We will sustain that the last lesson of Foucault is to propose vitalism as the key way of thinking for a future philosophy. To put this forward, we should first direct our attention to the work of Canguilhem, and then we will explain how the dynamics of knowledge, power and subjectification can be read from a vitalist approach.
... Simondon, as we will see, calls a realm 'metastable' when creative opportunities abound, and 'homeostatic' when all possibilities have been exhausted and the creative engine grinds to a halt (1980,2009). If digital machines can become 'tools for thinking design' as Oxman proposes, I hope to show in what follows that they will not only be inherently speculative as they emerge from the entangling of complex topologies (Parisi 2007;Hayward and Geoghegan 2012), but pragmatic too, in ways that exceed simplistic notions of function. ...
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... The social and the material become blurred. Posthumanism seeks to bring coherency in a world where causation is more distributed and without clear boundaries (Hayles, 1999;Haraway, 1990Haraway, , 2008Parisi, 2007;Hird, 2009Hird, , 2010. ...
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The fallout from environmental determinism of the early 20th century steered geography away from biological and evolutionary thought. Yet it also set in motion the diversification of how geographers conceive environment, how these environments shape and are shaped by humans, and how scaling negotiates the interpretation of this causality. I illustrate how this plurality of scalar perspectives and practices in geography is embedded in the organism–environment interaction recently articulated in the life sciences. I describe the new fields of epigenetics and niche construction to communicate how ideas about scale from human and physical geography come together in the life sciences. I argue that the two subdisciplinary modes or ‘moments’ of scalar thinking in geography are compatible, even necessary, through their embodiment in organisms. To procure predictability, organisms practice an epistemological scaling to rework the mental and material boundaries and scales in their environment. Yet organisms are also embedded in ontological flux. Boundaries and scales do not remain static because of the agency of other organisms to shape their own predictability. I formally define biological scaling as arising from the interplay of epistemological and ontological moments of scale. This third moment of scale creates local assemblages or topologies with a propensity for persistence. These ‘lumpy’ material outcomes of the new organism–environment interaction have analogues in posthuman and new materialist geographies. They also give formerly discredited Lamarckian modes of inheritance a renewed, but revised acceptance. This article argues for a biological view of scale and causality in geography.
... A common trope for this dimension of biotechnology is lateralization or flattening (or alternately, 'de-standardisation' (Cooper, 2008) 8 ). Versions of this argument can be found, for instance, in (Franklin, Lury, & Stacey, 2000) and (Parisi, 2007), as well as (Rose, 2006). 9 Nikolas Rose, for instance, writes: ...
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Abstract Claims concerning the role of design figure heavily in the recent emergence,of synthetic biology. This paper argues that there can be no straightforward application of engineering design principles to biotechnological problems. The design practices appearing in synthetic biology embody,wide-ranging and heterogeneous re-organisation of techniques of working with biological substances in networked assemblages. This paper analyses the function of design in synthetic biology via the concepts of 'meta-technique' and 'meta-material.'These two terms suggest how existing biological techniques and materials are being intensively re- organised. The notion of design as a meta-technique shows how synthetic biology draws highly reflexively from digital cultures for practices of collaboration, standardisation and a sense of ongoing change. The notion of biological substance as meta-materialsuggests a way of thinking about the dynamism of living things infused by models, constructs and work-processes. Design in synthetic biology has important implications for how we think about biotechnology and biomedicine more generally. Synthetic biology design software, as well as the several hundred scientific papers and patents published between 2004-2009, indicate an alteration of biological substance in train. Existing critical accounts of biotechnology and genomic,medicine contend that species differences and evolutionary histories undergo a flattening or lateralization in molecular biology and genomics. By contrast, analysis of design practices appearing in synthetic biology suggests a different set of topological operations are taking shape in synthetic biology. Effects of depth and verticality appear at critical design conjunctions in synthetic biology, and these meta-stable effects intensify public, economic and lived responses. Keywords: synthetic biology, design, technique, materiality, emergence, new media What is design in synthetic biology? From techniques to
... A common trope for this dimension of biotechnology is lateralization or flattening. Versions of this trope can be found, for instance, in (Franklin, Lury, & Stacey, 2000; Parisi, 2007; Rose, 2006) as well commonly figuring in descriptions of economic globalization such as Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat (T. L. Friedman, 2005). ...
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Abstract Significant transformations in biological technique and biological work are taking place in the aftermath of genomics. While existing accounts of genomics and biotechnology contend that species differences and evolutionary histories have undergone,'flattening' by molecular techniques and concepts, analysis of design practices in synthetic biology suggests that vertical aggregations of biological technique, substance and work are occurring. The paper analyses the movement of design processes into biology by examining software, diagrams and forms of collaborationintersecting in the production of biological constructs such as metabolic pathways, minimal genomes and biological standard parts. In characterising the design processes taking shape in synthetic biology, it develops the concepts of 'meta- technique' and 'meta-material.'The notion of design as a meta-technique shows how synthetic biology assembles techniques and renders them available via practices of collaboration and standardisation.The notion of meta-materialsuggests ways of thinking about the dynamism of living things infused by models, constructs and layered work- processes. The practical re-deployment of biological techniques we see in the design software, the development of increasingly extensive and interlinked biological constructs assembled by design, and the shifting enrolments of biological work associated with design as a de-coupled work process alter what counts as biological work and what counts as biological substance. The increasing salience of biological design has significant implications for how we conceptualiseparticipation in biotechnologyand biomedicine more generally. 1 Design in synthetic biology In the series of momentous changes associated with molecular biology, recombinant DNA
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• In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the conclusion that each species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species. Nevertheless, such a conclusion, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory, until it could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have been modified, so as to acquire that perfection of structure and coadaptation which most justly excites our admiration. Naturalists continually refer to external conditions, such as climate, food, &c, as the only possible cause of variation. In one very limited sense, as we shall hereafter see, this may be true; but it is preposterous to attribute to mere external conditions, the structure, for instance, of the woodpecker, with its feet, tail, beak, and tongue, so admirably adapted to catch insects under the bark of trees. In the case of the misseltoe, which draws its nourishment from certain trees, which has seeds that must be transported by certain birds, and which has flowers with separate sexes absolutely requiring the agency of certain insects to bring pollen from one flower to the other, it is equally preposterous to account for the structure of this parasite, with its relations to several distinct organic beings, by the effects of external conditions, or of habit, or of the volition of the plant itself. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved) • In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the conclusion that each species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species. Nevertheless, such a conclusion, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory, until it could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have been modified, so as to acquire that perfection of structure and coadaptation which most justly excites our admiration. Naturalists continually refer to external conditions, such as climate, food, &c, as the only possible cause of variation. In one very limited sense, as we shall hereafter see, this may be true; but it is preposterous to attribute to mere external conditions, the structure, for instance, of the woodpecker, with its feet, tail, beak, and tongue, so admirably adapted to catch insects under the bark of trees. In the case of the misseltoe, which draws its nourishment from certain trees, which has seeds that must be transported by certain birds, and which has flowers with separate sexes absolutely requiring the agency of certain insects to bring pollen from one flower to the other, it is equally preposterous to account for the structure of this parasite, with its relations to several distinct organic beings, by the effects of external conditions, or of habit, or of the volition of the plant itself. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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What are the implications for humankind of the astounding report two weeks ago of the production of viable sheep from adult cells? The moral imperative of preserving human dignity must remain paramount.
Black Magic, Biotech and Dark Markets
  • E Thacker