Accepted Paper:

Life forms and forms of life: labour, loss and a message from cryptic diversity  


Rebecca Ellis (Lancaster University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the dual role of DNA Barcoding in revealing, nurturing and naturalising cryptic diversity and promoting particular ways of being human to the ends of protecting biodiversity and planetary salvation.

Paper long abstract:

In 2003 the Barcoding of Life Initiative (BOLI), promised somewhat ambitiously to spark a renaissance for the taxonomic and biodiversity sciences. This was due to the discovery that a short genetic sequence (the barcode) on a standardised part of the genome of all species could accurately and rapidly differentiate between even the most closely related species. The DNA barcode in its sheer simplicity had practical and rhetorical force; the roll-call one gene = all species = all life worked to ignite the imagination of many taxonomists and perhaps more importantly, their funders and user communities. The initiative propelled an unprecedented flow of fresh and preserved biological material, the encouragement of bio-informatic experimentation and, most importantly for this paper, the creation of new human relationships required to labour, produce and reveal species difference and abundance.

In this paper I use my reading of 2 scientific publications in an attempt to disentangle the human-technological-natural arrangements required to make present - in quite exuberant terms - the once hidden, or cryptic butterfly diversity of Costa Rica's Area de Conservacion de Guanacaste (ACG). I explore in particular how BOLI scientists, whose role I explore as one of brokering between life forms and forms of life (Helmreich 2009), seek not only to rapidly reveal the mysteries of insect diversity; they also draw upon this biological potential to prophesise planetary salvation which itself is dependent upon particular ways of being human.

Panel P13
Encountering living things through technology