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A playful but sensible approach to possible biofutures
Regine Debatty, 21 May 05

eliocaccavalle.jpgOne of the most interesting pieces of critical design I came across last year was Elio Caccavale's Utility Pets, a project which explores the idea of having animal farms to supply human spare parts.

He imagined a scenario where the organ recipient takes home the pig and gives it a good quality of life until the day of the organ replacement comes. A series of objects investigate the emotional exchange between the person and the genetically modified pig that has been bred with elements of the owner's genetic makeup. To take one example, the Smoke Eater is a device that allows the user to smoke at home without creating passive smoke that would damage the health of the utility pet. The owner doesn't have to worry about damaging his/her own health since the pet has spare organs ready to be used if needed. Of course, this approach doesn't mean that it's the future the designer hopes we'll get. It's only a clever way to make us reflect on the sometimes frightening advances of science.

Caccavale is currently showing in London myBio dolls, a series of educational dolls exploring the emergence of biological hybrids in biotechnologies, and our moral, social, cultural and personal responses to the strange and different in human biology and also "transhuman" creatures.

Learning from companies and organisations that produce educational dolls, the designer, with the help of bioethicist Richard Ashcroft, made twelve myBio dolls that could symbolise possible biofutures.

The use of narrative and myBio dolls can help children understand how to deal with applications of biotechnology, and with the social development of biotechnological knowledge. Tomorrow’s children will need to know the key methods used in biotechnology so they can learn to understand the many ambivalent possibilities of biotechnology.

Starting with a series of "What if" stories, the narrative process gives children a common language for talking about biotechnology. "Suppose that your life could be saved by a pig, what would happen to you and the pig?" or "Imagine you could have a glow-in-the-dark rabbit, would you relate to such a rabbit differently than a conventional one?"

The dolls include myBio boy and myBio pig which demonstrate the physical transfer of the organ from the animal to the human; myBio bunny, myBio glowing fish and myBio jellyfish glow bright green when illuminated with a UV light, demonstrating how scientists have used GFP as a fluorescent indicator for monitoring gene expression in living organisms; myBio reactor cow shows how cows produce proteins in their milk for pharmaceutical drugs (this is symbolised by the "milk thread" attached to the cow’s udders); myBio goat has a spider web attached to the udders demonstrating one animal making the natural product of another.

Hybrids: towards a new typology of beings and animal products will be shown at the Science Learning Centre, Institute of Education, in London, till 02 June 2005.
Elio Caccavale will also be talking at the Subtle Technologies symposium , May 26-29, Toronto, Canada.

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Interesting concept. Providing children with models so they can become familiar with the social applications of biotechnology while their parents, (not to mention this society) haven't a clue.

A thought:
Why mess around with another form of life to maintain those spare parts that are going to be abused and destroyed? Why not just grow a brainless clone of yourself, keep it in the icebox until it is needed to repair self-inflicted damage and leave the pigs, cows and chickens out of it?

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