SCRaMbLing Human-Yeast Relations: A Methodological Experiment as ArtiSTS

Tarsh Bates, The University of Western Australia; Erika Amethyst Szymanski, University of Edinburgh; Devon Ward, Symbiotica, University of Western Australia

Sydney 2018: Methods and Practices

We present an ongoing interdisciplinary collaboration exploring the texture of a peculiar interspecies meeting known as SCRaMbLE. As a social scientist studying yeast synthetic biology and a bioartist studying human-yeast ecologies, we were jointly fascinated by SCRaMbLE –  Synthetic Chromosome Rearrangement and Modification by LoxPsym-Mediated Evolution. In the Saccharomyces cerevisiae 2.0 project, in which synthetic biologists aim to construct the first complete synthetic eukaryotic genome, SCRaMbLE mixes up conventional relations between human biological engineers and their microbial materials. In SCRaMbLE protocols developed by human scientists aiming to design better yeast genomes, humans relinquish control and enable yeast to devise their own solutions to environmental challenges. The humans’ request, however, comes via the apparent violence of forcing yeast to segment and rearrange their own genome.
Through an artwork in the form of a card game, we aimed to reflect the randomness (and, consequently, waste) of SCRaMbLE while investigating its paradoxically collaborative/antagonistic human-yeast relationships. Our own design process speaks to the difficulty of attempting an experiment with artistic, social scientific, and natural scientific legitimacy which aims for critical cross-disciplinary knowledge production rather than criticism as its goal. This work speaks to the possibility and the benefit of working close to the science without running headlong into it, to how art becomes a method and a technique for more-than-human scholarship, and to how art and STS scholarship can together explore affective dimensions of shared research questions in ways not bound by the conventions of rational scholarly discourse.