Accepted Paper:

Making bio-objects mobile  


Michael Morrison (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Circulation of bio-objects such as human stem cell lines requires entanglement of the 'bio' with the digital and non-biological material alike. In addition, to make bio-objects mobilisable across institutional or legal thresholds they often need to be 'tethered' to fixed sites.

Paper long abstract:

The concept of bio-objectification describes how the 'raw materials' of living cells and tissues are subject to both technical manipulations and ontological transformations to produce novel 'bio-objects' such as cell lines and transgenic animals (Vermeulen, Tamminen and Webster 2012). Such bio-objects are rarely static; they are conceptually fluid, but also subject to more literal geo-physical dissemination and circulation, through biobanks and repositories. Making bio-objects mobile means producing them in such a way that they are capable of travelling across institutional, national, and contextual thresholds, and of moving between public and private sectors. This paper uses one particular bio-object -the human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) -to explore how making bio-objects mobilisable, involves a close entanglement of the 'bio' with the digital (the 'bio-virtual'), and with other non-biological material entities, and how legal and ethical requirements for the use of human biomaterials act to 'tether' (Hinterberger and Porter 2015) bio-objects to their sites of origin. Perhaps paradoxically, making bio-objects mobile turns out to entail establishing and stabilising connections and fixed points of reference. These claims will be illustrated using empirical data from recent European hiPSC biobanking projects. Finally, some implications of a focus on mobility and of expanding this frame of analysis will be offered.

Hinterberger A and Porter N. 2015. Genomic and Viral Sovereignty: Tethering the Materials of Global Biomedicine. Public Culture 27:2 doi 10.1215/08992363-2841904

Vermeulen, N., S. Tamminen, and A. Webster, eds. 2011. Bio-Objects: Life in the 21st Century. London: Ashgate.

Panel C09
Bio-objectification: meetings and new thresholds across the bio-social