Some are calling it a breakthrough in sustainable material development, others – a crime – but perhaps that’s just the point?
Hi Tina, could you tell me about your project and your motivations?
I began researching the ethics around biotechnologies which dated back to the 1950’s, looking at several well-known cases where deceased patients had genetical information taken without their consent. To this day, legislation still doesn’t limit the commercial usage of these materials. My project aims to address the shortcomings around this protection of biological information, as well commenting on the ever more demanding luxury market and speculating the potential use of this technology within it.
You have applied for a patent for the use of the late Alexander McQueen’s DNA, why did you choose him – and how easy was this to obtain?
I wanted to showcase how easily you can get hold of biological material from sources you would think extremely protected. McQueen’s information was interesting from the perspective that he is deceased, has an enormous brand empire protected with numerous copyrights – however his genetic information is still not well protected. More practically, l was able to authenticate and access his genetic information through the locks of hair used in his clothing labels from his first collection.
Have you had any feedback from his representatives or family?
The project is speculating the possible extraction of anyone’s genetic information (the samples are currently made from pig-skin) – I can imagine how a misinterpreted intention of my project could cause distress, however this is exactly the exploitation of genetic material that my project is trying to expose and provoke a debate around.
Can you talk me through the process of the experiment?
It’s based on a process called de-extinction, where you can extract the information from hair, skin or bone and use these information to biologically programme an already existing skin draft. After that the skin grows using the genetic information, the growing tissue mimics the tissue of the original source.
A representative from PETA states: “Using animal skins in the 21st century shows ignorance and a lack of imagination. Gorjanc’s idea would at least make buying leather items ethical, as she didn’t kill to obtain the skins. The future holds lab-grown meat, skins, and more.” How do you feel about their approval versus the opinion that Pure Human is ethically unsound?
I’m really pleased it’s been PETA approved – it’s really interesting how we as a society still have a really taboo relationship with human bodily materials. The common reaction to human leather is disgust, while animal leather which is still obtained in much crueler conditions is still regarded as a common everyday material.
So in theory, could this experiment be carried out on something living?
Absolutely! The subject does not need to be deceased – I was just more focused on highlighting the problems surrounding inheritance and ownership of genetic information after death. Once a person leaves their body, they lose ownership of their biological material.
What do you think the possibilities of this technology are?
I believe that there are numerous potential applications in the commercial market that could represent a more sustainable alternative to today’s processes. For instance, bespoke laboratory skin for cosmetic testing would minimize or even abolish the use of test animals and laboratory grown leather from the DNA of living creatures could also replace some of today’s cruel leather producing techniques.
What’s next for you?
I’m really interested in speculating future application of developing technologies, so my work will still revolve around similar subjects. I’m also thinking of expanding the project to allow me to more in-depth discover what I have already touched upon.
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