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Artificial Life Today Anthropological and Sociological Analysis of Life Engineering

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ARTENGINE (Artificial Life TodayAnthropological and Sociological Analysis of Life Engineering )

Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2019-09-30

Bioengineering technologies involve engineering of living artefacts, intelligent artefacts or engineering of the body. One of the most progressive aspects of this field is the use of genetic screening and DNA repair technologies, recombination of DNA. The project aimed to analyse especially genetic screening, preimplantantion genetic diagnosis (PGD). As project has been running it has focused more on recombinant DNA and editing technologies as the contemporary flagship of dealing with life on genetic or molecular level. The current applications of genome-editing and DNA repair technologies have provoked significant attention in society and raised a number of ethical and legal questions. I have analyzed various economies of hope, hype, expectations, politics, and poetics of promises and better or worse predictions or moral panic from the point of view of sociology, anthropology, and science and technology studies (STS).

1) to explore the social and cultural background and the specific concerns of the use of PGD and recombination DNA in the European context (WP2)
2) to describe and analyse the cultural and social structure and forms of agency, naming, defining, and dealing with engineered life within genome editing (WP3)
By meeting these analytical objectives and empirically addressing the phenomenon of life engineering, other following 3) theoretical objectives were achieved (WP1):
a) contemporary technologies of life engineering, particularly PGD and DNA recombinant, employing the concept of biopower/biopolitics were analyzed; b) connections between contemporary theories of biopower and non-biological, artificial, post-human, or multi-species concepts of life were explored; c) the study of genome screening and editing technologies using the approach of today’s new materialism were used.

OTHER OBJECTIVES/AIMS: Furthermore, the fellowship significantly contributed to my professional and career development (WP4, WP7). I undertook rigorous academic training and developed complementary skills. Another aim was to disseminate the research through a monograph and academic papers (WP5).
"WP1, WP2 andWP3 have been pursued by following three main research strategies: 1) I have carried research – ethnography, interviews, and I systematically analysed both theoretical and empirical sources; 2) I have identified and corrected methodological shortcomings, adjust research design to the fieldwork; 3) I have analysed data and prepared materials. Within other work packages WP4, WP5, WP6 and WP7 I have focused on management, dissemination, and training activities.

The aim of WP1 was related to the theoretical objective to analyse contemporary technologies of life engineering, particularly genome editing employing the concepts of biopower, artificial life, and humanity. This work package required continuous work during the overall project.
The aim of this work package was to explore the social and cultural backgrounds and specific concerns of the uses of PGD and genome editing technologies. The digital ethnography and discourse analysis were used to analyse the Czech Republic and Germany in terms of: a) public debates on dealing with engineered life, b) legal frames and laws. Using the critical review of the theoretical status (WP1), a discourse analysis of public debates, laws (WP2), and an analysis of in-depth interviews (WP3) relating to genome editing technology, in this work package I have also analysed how these particular processes of life engineering are interconnected with categories of gender, race, multi-species, and religion.
The aim of this work package was to describe and analyse the cultural and social structures and the forms of agency, naming, defining and dealing with engineered life within PGD and editing genome technologies. Important parts of this work package included recruiting participants and obtaining permissions and authorizations for research in laboratories. Non-participatory observations, pilot and informative interviews, and in-depth interviews with scientists were used to understand dealing with engineered life and its agency. In total, around 25 in-depth interviews were conducted. Ethnographic participant and non-participant observations at the labs also took place.
The objective of this work package was to contribute to my professional and career development. I have visited a number of GRADE seminars and workshops at the Goethe university in Frankfurt to improve all soft skills mentioned. I am also involved in the ""Biotechnologies, Nature and Society"" research group (Goethe university) and LaSST_ Lab for Studies of Science and Technology (Goethe university).

This work package was based on the analysis of data collected WP2-3, framed by a theoretical perspective of anthropology of life and STS. During the research project, I wrote four papers and submitted them to the peer reviewed, internationally recognised journals. Two are published, two are under review now (in 2019). I also wrote the proposal for the monograph (submitted to the publishing house, under review) and I organized an international workshop at the University of Frankfurt ( Four presentations at international conferences with academic audiences were given.

The aim of this work package was to communicate research to public forums. The outreach activities are consisting of the website, popularization article addressed to the mainstream mass media and five invited talks (one as a Marie Curie Ambassador) which were hold, also for international audience. Scientific and financial management of the project was assured through regular monitoring meetings with the supervisor and science officers to assess the progress of the works."
Progress is to be seen in the analysis of DNA recombinant and genome screening (PGD) technologies within the project. In particular, the project addressed the need to sociologically grasp and reflect the cultural backgrounds of biotechnologization in terms of current synthetic biology, transgenetics, and human enhancement. In this sense, the project offered innovative aspects: the creation of synergy and the inter-connection of various fieldworks, perspectives, and methodologies; an exploration of the phenomenon of life-engineering, particularly genome editing and PGD, in the European context. I have it explored via an anthropological and sociological critical perspective. I have been interconnected miscellaneuous fields of sociology, social anthropology and also fields of molecular biology, DNA recombination as well. Assorted futurities, spheres of hopes, hypes, fears or considerations are present in the topics of the current genome editing technologies. We can still ask what kinds of biotechnological visions, and social innovations do we face today in the context of human genome editing technologies, what modes of de/politicization are involved in the context of editing genome technologies? Which medicalized social problems are mirrored and created by contemporary editing genome technologies? These phenomena have been considered only incidentally in existing scholarship.
Don´t move, Don´t move (photo by Eva Slesingerova)
photo by Eva Slesingerova
Don´t use (photo by Eva Slesingerova)
Life Lines (photo by Petr Dubjak)