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“What if I told you I was a genetically modified human?”

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Megan Daalder -- Project Eureka

Megan Daalder‘s Project Eureka is a shape-shifting and multidimensional narrative about life, science, and technology after the end of the world. At her work-in-progress exhibition at the UCLA Art|Science gallery, which opened this week, she invites us to visit Eureka’s future, set in the year 2050. In this future “the ‘Naturals’ have won,” and society aggressively defends an idea of Nature and Natural Selection that is full of conflict, with room only for the naturally genetically fit. In this world, Daalder’s Eureka is an outcast on the run from a society that resists all technological interventions in Nature’s plan. She is the world’s first and last designer baby, engineered to be “futureproof” in a world wracked by climate change.

The specifics of her genome edits and the structure of her society are left open-ended. We’re asked to speculate and fill in many of the gaps in the world hinted at by the exhibition’s two intertwined interviews. On one screen, Eureka talks to my favorite bioethicist, Laurie Zoloth, about Nature and the morality of genetic technologies. As Zoloth discusses purity, ethics, religion, and history, the other screen features an interview with Gizmo Joe, a resident of Slab City, discussing the dangers and hopes that are embedded in all technology. As Zoloth questions which concept of nature we wish to return to and what we define as truly “natural,” Gizmo Joe, at first wary of an engineered human, welcomes Eureka into his desert world, littered with the artifacts of past technologies in various stages of being recycled into future machines.

Project Eureka isn’t meant to simply warn us of a future climate apocalypse or to propose a desired path of progress, but to open up new spaces and times for asking how we can live more effectively together on this planet, with other entities both human and non-human, natural and artificial. Likewise, Eureka’s genetic modifications don’t point the way towards Daalder’s vision of an ideal future human, optimized for any given future scenario. Rather, in her conflicts with a society set on one definition of DNA-inscribed human nature, Eureka shows us that we must transform ourselves in many different ways in order to compose a better future world. In proposing a genetically engineered basis for Eureka’s altruism and kindness–her humanity–Daalder blurs the natural, cultural, and technological in a character that can’t be defined by any one trait or behavior, but is shaped through her relationship to the people she interviews and the world she creates as the project grows and shifts.

Christina Agapakis About the Author: Christina Agapakis is a biological designer who blogs about biology, engineering, engineering biology, and biologically inspired engineering. Follow on Twitter @thisischristina.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. N a g n o s t i c 10:49 am 04/27/2013

    Nature worship, Luddism, GM, SF and video installation “art”. All have their proponents and detractors. GM seems the only appropriate subject for a scientific journal, though I may be stuck in 1950.

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  2. 2. geojellyroll 4:51 pm 04/27/2013

    ‘Whatever’…meanwhile back in the real world, China, India, Pakistan. Indonesia, etc. will be on the cutting edge of genetically modified humans. None of this will controlled by the USA or other Western societies.

    The Chinese will produce more intelligent, good looking, healthy children. The ‘rest of us’ will follow.

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  3. 3. Percival 5:13 pm 04/27/2013

    Luddites as a rule have narrow definitions of what constitutes “technology”, “unnatural”, and so on. As a species we’ve been engineering everything we see and touch; our environment, our food sources, and ourselves ever since we became a distinct species. We, unlike most other species, are active agents in our evolution rather than just reacting to changes in our environment. (Probably so were our forebears and “cousins” like the neandertals.) As far as I’m concerned the “good old days” are yet to come and include all the “technological horrors” that terrify Luddites. I wonder if it would be practical to set aside “Naturist reserves” to confine them to so the rest of us can get on with evolving like humans rather than like other animals…

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  4. 4. vapur 8:29 pm 04/27/2013

    When you alter DNA so that you replace low hormone production or even ones you didn’t have before, you are genetically modified.

    If you take hormones in a pill to replace low hormone production or even ones you didn’t have before, you are genetically modified.

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  5. 5. alan6302 9:20 pm 04/27/2013

    Genetic Engineering will be soon used for Agenda 21. That is why the government is acing psychotic.

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  6. 6. drkayign 9:31 pm 04/27/2013

    If you take hormones in a pill to replace low hormone production or even ones you didn’t have before, you are genetically modified.

    - no, your genes are not modified by taking hormones. Gene therapy on the other hand will. Most hormone replacements act by introducing hormones to the body, not modifying genes to create hormones.

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  7. 7. vapur 10:12 pm 04/27/2013


    If you are taking growth hormone to supplement your lack of production, you are genetically modified by those supplements regardless if they come from an external or internal source. The hormones are being brought to unnatural levels to modify gene expression results.

    The semantics definitely need to be thought out more, but gene therapy doesn’t necessarily mean you altered genes; rather, altering the production from them to something desirable can include some external input. The results are the same, except that you are more likely to pass on traits to your children if it was included in your genome directly as encoded DNA rather than an electrical signal expressed by the composition of your blood.

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  8. 8. vapur 10:14 pm 04/27/2013

    (i.e., growing in the lab vs. internally)

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  9. 9. vapur 11:22 pm 04/27/2013

    Let me clarify: there is a difference between extracting tissue to grow separately without contaminating the original subject, and changing the subject to have new coding that may conflict with old code.

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  10. 10. netcontj 11:30 pm 04/27/2013

    What if I told you I was a result of of The SS Lebensborn program.

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  11. 11. m 10:34 am 04/28/2013

    Its very clear to me the authors iq is beyond help. The only country actively proved to be pursuing genetic alteration for the benefit of its people is china.

    An America firm a decade or so ago offered (Nobel Laurette) sperm for single women to provide smart children but there was such an up raw the company withdrew the smart kid sperm. Apparently women wanted stupid kids as it was there right to not be genetically changed for the better.

    China is pursuing an increase of 10-15 iq points, which would put them under me still, but it will be good to have smart people to converse with for a change.

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  12. 12. SteveO 5:30 pm 04/28/2013

    m, your post made me laugh – thanks!

    Considering your lack of basic English skills (understandable if English is your second language), and your lack of understanding of genetic determination and purpose and use of of IQ, I suspect that you actually have a lot of smart people with whom you can converse. The question is, can you tell?

    I have to agree with the theme of the other posters – whether the US does or doesn’t do human genetic engineering in the short term (and assuming genetic engineering does have noticeable benefits) in the long term everyone who can afford it will do so. Otherwise they will be dooming their children to life as a second-class citizen.

    But keep in mind: in a world where some children are engineered to be geniuses, someone else still has to pick up the trash.

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