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SyntheticHow Life Got Made$
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Sophia Roosth

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226440323

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226440637.001.0001

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The Synthetic Kingdom: Transgenic Kinship in the Postgenomic Era

The Synthetic Kingdom: Transgenic Kinship in the Postgenomic Era

(p.53) Chapter Two The Synthetic Kingdom: Transgenic Kinship in the Postgenomic Era

Sophia Roosth

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 2, “The Synthetic Kingdom,” examines Bay Area synthetic biologists building organisms that manufacture fuels and drugs, such as Jay Keasling, whose goal was to manufacture cheap antimalarial drugs in bacterial hosts. This chapter appraises how these researchers think about the microbes they made: E. coli and yeast, brewing in flasks, containing genes from disparate kingdoms and domains of life. Joining the history of biological taxonomy to anthropological theories of queer or “voluntary” kinship demonstrates that such organisms inaugurate new forms of relatedness, which synthetic biologists treat as both putatively “natural” and phylogenetically ambiguous. Such "postnatural" organisms do not fit neatly into trees of life based on descent, ancestry, or lineage. Some scientists and artists even debate whether they are building a new branch of the tree of life, “Kingdom Synthetica.” Their efforts undermine any notion of biological relatedness as fixed or natural. It may seem counterintuitive to use queer kinship theory to describe bioengineered organisms. This chapter nonetheless contends that, just as queer kinship problematizes Euro-American faiths in blood-based nuclear relatedness, engineered life-forms behave queerly, undermining theories of descent and lineage even in those organisms that have not been transgenically tampered with.

Keywords:   taxonomy, kinship, postnatural, Jay Keasling, queer, transgenic organisms

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