Confronting the Bacterial Sublime: Whole Genome Sequencing, Microbiology and Bioart









Attractor: Anna Dumitriu

There is a sense that the world is heading towards a new pandemic, that an unknown disease will emerge or that an existing pathogen will evolve strategies to resist our limited antibiotic cures and strike us down. However, new developments in whole genome sequencing of bacteria and viruses offer us hope, potentially enabling doctors to diagnose and precisely treat diseases in a matter of hours. But the implementation of whole genome sequencing (WGS) technology in microbiology raises a number of complex technical and ethical issues from processing and understanding vast amounts of data to potential privacy issues revealed by the specific organisms an individual may be carrying and passing on, and even in the way genomic data is pieced together jigsaw puzzle-like. The cost of WGS technology is continually being reduced whilst processing speed is increasing exponentially at an unexpected rate, and it will begin to be implemented across healthcare providers worldwide within the next five to ten years. We are in the midst of a quiet revolution that may have as big an impact on our lives as the industrial revolution had on our ancestors’ lives.

Methodology: This stream invites artists, scientists, philosophers and bioinformaticians to provide a variety of perspectives on whole genome sequencing of bacteria and viruses through talks, practical workshops and artworks.

We aim to:
· Provide a clear description of the work currently being undertaken
· Lay out the current issues for the research
· Look at the potential impacts of WGS on global healthcare
· Discuss the ethical issues from privacy to provision of technology in developing countries
· Discuss how to widen public engagement into the debates around WGS
· Investigate how WGS is inspiring artists and provide a review of current art practice in the area
· And lead to the development of new interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaborations

Biography: Anna Dumitriu is an artist whose work is concerned with the ethical implications of new technologies. Her installations, interventions and performances use a range of digital, biological and traditional media including live bacteria and textiles. She is currently working on a Wellcome Trust funded art project entitled “Communicating Bacteria”, collaborating as a Visiting Research Fellow: Artist in Residence with the Adaptive Systems Research Group at The University of Hertfordshire and Artist in Residence on the on the UK Clinical Research Consortium Project “Modernising Medical Microbiology” (looking at whole genome sequencing of bacteria) at the University of Oxford.