Ana Delgado

“Bioprospecting: On microbes, infrastructures and the public good”



Ana Delgado presents her research about biodigital microbial platforms. Photo: TIK-UiO

The idea behind digital extraction is to create a system approach that can create useful data from biological elements as biodigital microbial platforms. The aim is to look at methods of extraction used in different projects. This is important because Norway as begun to have an interest in microbiodiversity which is seen as essential for the future bioeconomy. There are different efforts to collect data from micro collections of biological elements in the wild. The final goal is to attract foreign investors interested in biological applications derived from this data, thus digitalization results crucial for creating data availability. The importance of attracting foreign investment is because the Norwegian state has been too active in biological research and there is a lack of private participation in this kind of projects.

The concrete products that are being worked upon nowadays are: Inbioforms, oxymod, bioZEment2d, among others. These efforts are being lead by the Center for Digital Life Norway, which is based on the collaboration of four universities, and currently leads 15 projects. The aim of a bioeconomy is different in Norway from other countries as it is heavily dependent to the exploration of national resources as fisheries and other biodiversity. The effort is on how to turn biological resources into products through digitalizing them.

Interestingly, several research groups within Digital Life Norway are using data from one microbiological collection that was extracted in the 1990s from the Tronidhanfjord. What is interesting is to see how one collection, from which there is very little information, has served as data material for many projects that are different both on terms of lab products, but also how the data is digitalized.

What does the public good have to do with this? Investors and scientists are all interested in the digitalization of things and biology, and use the discourse of the public good to justify their actions. The Public is directly mentioned in all projects within Digital Life, but at the same time is not included. There is an inference that science has a social utility, but there is no specification of how to understand the common good. Although there are many efforts to address the public, none of them is concrete. It seems that the true reasons for the drive in science is science itself, not that it can be then important (sold) to the industry or that it can have real on ground impacts for the public. Scientists need to find funding for maintaining the machines they have queried, meaning that they are forced to apply for grants and justify their already formed objectives into the objectives of the funding that usually have a mention of the public but in a different way that what the scientists had thought. It is in this aspect that scientists also justify the public good by mentioning the creation of jobs.

One option to frame this problematic is though political economy, but its approach is not explicit. Whereas in STS it is possible to focus on the dramatization of science, on the way in which the market should be related to society. However, this option tends to end up in discussion if infrastructures are accessible or not, and this is an unwanted perspective in this project. We want to focus on the driver of the future that is done for the interest of the people, how is this done, justified, etc.

The reason for focusing on extractions is because it helps to understand the empirical material that is available. It is inspired from a perspective of political ecology, on the idea of extractive economies, but focused on the biological. It is in this way that the idea of extraction is helpful to play with, despite that another helpful approach could be destextualization.


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