Microbes are the enemy. We spend millions on anti-bacterial products, fearing the microbes in our food, in our homes, on our hands. Yet with microbes in our body outnumbering our own cells, they might have more to offer than we thought. Escherichia coli—or E. coli—is the workhorse of the biotech lab, and the model bacterium, having played a key role in the development of many biotechnologies. Easily manipulated and cultured, we probably know more about these bacteria than any other living creature on earth. Meanwhile, J. Craig Venter is fishing the world’s oceans, assembling a vast library of diverse microbes, prospecting for new strings of genetic code that may yield new and profitable commercial applications. And in labs around the world, microbes are being genetically engineered to create biological computers, infiltrating the previously grey technology of silicon with a living dimension.
BIOLOGICAL LANDSCAPING AT HOME
Microbe Controllers considers a domestic landscape where microbes and other engineered microscopic organisms are cultivated to perform useful tasks in the home. Aware of this microscopic horticultural landscape living alongside us, will our attitudes to what we accord ‘living’ status change? What are the ethical issues in making living, disposable consumer products? Are we economically compelled to develop biotechnologies and consider the ethics later? At what scale do we value life? In the lab, bacteria, neurons and other cellular scale ‘things’ are not attributed ‘living’ status, but as the size and complexity increases, we begin to feel tenderness or anxiety.
Should we be fighting for microbe rights, memorials for dead kettles and expired lab cultures? Microbes may not have feelings—as far as we understand—but we should we explore the ethics of enslaving them before the Argos catalogue is filled with living electronics.
Microscopic Horticulture Mask: How might we cultivate an invisible landscape?
Feeding the back of the TV.
Internal microbial landscape.
Tending the Toaster.