Download Biotech- Life by Contagion Luciana Parisi PDF

TitleBiotech- Life by Contagion Luciana Parisi
Tags Mitochondrion Natural Selection
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Theory, Culture & Society

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DOI: 10.1177/0263276407078711

2007 24: 29Theory Culture Society
Luciana Parisi

Biotech: Life by Contagion



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Page 2

Biotech
Life by Contagion

Luciana Parisi

Introduction

IN 1994, the merging of biotech corporations Merck & Co. and WashingtonUniversity gave birth to Genbank, which launched, for the first time,clones on the market. Since then, clones have become part of the
commercial world of genetic engineering, DNA maps and, recently,
pharmacogenomics.1 In particular, the reproduction of life – from cells to
embryos – without sexual mating has entered the biotech market. A new
(but also ancient) mode of sex, bacterial sex (the non-copulatory trans-
mission of genetic material) is now the motor of this commercial engineer-
ing of life, which moves beyond species barriers. Bacterial sex is the
transmission of information across phyla and lineages. Bacteria (non-
nucleated bounded cells) continuously modify their genetic make-up whilst
infecting new cells. This sex by contagion has become fundamental to
biotech’s task of redesigning life.

The impact of biotech has mainly been discussed as a new frontier in
the history of evolution. It could be argued that biotech’s celebration of the
end of organic nature reinforces the ontological belief in the gradual
progression of life towards higher levels of complexity: a sort of optimizing
process leading to ever increasing fitness.2 In a sense, the manipulation of
cells, genes and ultimate life appears to dwell in the Darwinian and neo-
Darwinian logic of evolution: the adaptation of the fittest units of life (from
organisms to genes) regulated by a supervising natural selection. The indi-
vidual organism or gene selected will leave better fitted offspring than the
organism or gene whose variations have not been selected. It is important
to acknowledge here that this logic of evolution has not passed through the
hands of Biotech’s advocates without alteration.3 Indeed, in the history of
evolutionary theory there have been remarkable changes since Darwin. In

! Theory, Culture & Society 2007 (SAGE, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, and Singapore),
Vol. 24(6): 29–52
DOI: 10.1177/0263276407078711

029-052 078711 Parisi (D) 5/11/07 09:17 Page 29

at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on August 12, 2013tcs.sagepub.comDownloaded from

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