"../bio_informatics.html/materiality & data between information theory
and genetic research"
Contemporary developments within the sciences of genetic engineering
and biotechnology have been instrumental in constellating a series of
relationships that are bringing together research in molecular biology
(genetics, biotech, immunology, endocrinology), developments in applied research
and clinical technologies (genomic mapping, gene therapy, PCR, DNA chips), and a
variety of legal, social, and ethical issues (biotech & corporatization,
patenting issues, genetic screening & DNA fingerprinting). For example, in
May of this year, Perkin-Elmer Corporation (a leading supplier of "life systems"
technologies for research and analysis in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology,
environmental, and agricultural industries), The Institute for Genomic Research
(TIGR - a not-for-profit genetic analysis organization), and Dr. J. Craig Venter
(a controversial genetic researcher and director of TIGR) announced that a new
genomics company would be formed with the intent of completing the mapping of
the human genome in less time and for less money than the government-supported
Human Genome Project. The alliance between Perkin-Elmer, Venter, and TIGR (whose
website icon consists of a tiger leaping from a double helix of DNA) not only
constitutes an important shift from national or government-supported research to
a commercial or corporate frame, but it also marks an important encircling of
research and development, a technology industry (new sequencing-machines
produced by Perkin-Elmer), and commerce.
The excerpted files which follow in this essay are intended to raise
some of the theoretical and technical issues that have manifested themselves
within the domains of genetics and biotechnology research. This is made
especially evident by the move of many technoscientific practices onto the
Internet and Web, from searchable genomic databases, to computer applications
used for protein modeling, to software programs designed to simulate and/or
predict biochemical processes. In this literal - or rather, materialized -
instance of genetic/biochemical and computer-based/network-based information,
what gets defined or is assumed to constitute such objects as "information,"
"gene," and "database" has direct relationships and consequences for what
constitutes the body, the individual, and the property of the social subject.
From these issues, two main points are emphasized. First, these
technoscientific practices and logics form discrete examples where the
relationship between the body and language is reconfigured as a relationship of
materiality and data/information. Secondly, this manifestation has been
occurring in a socio-cultural site thoroughly enframed by the technological
apparatus of computer and telecommunications-based developments, contributing to
the increasingly intimate conjunction of molecular science research and
technological development that constitutes contemporary technoscience.
A technoscientific laboratory, in which a culturally marked, naked
human body stands supported in a volumetric scanning chamber. The resultant 3-D
model of the body is viewable on a nearby computer monitor. The interface on the
monitor centrally frames the 3-D rendering of the body, rotating it and tilting
it, presenting it as a bright green wireframe model, or as a full-volume body
with rendered tones approximating flesh. Below and to the left of the rotating
model of the body are information input/output windows (scanning level,
rendering in polygon units, motion-capture data). Biomonitoring readouts relate
the physiological and biochemical homeostasis of the body. Also, there is a
scrolling readout of the individual's genetic code and, within the same
interface, a smaller inset-window relating the genetic code to this particular
body's physiological and biochemical properties.
Select the "segmentation" command: (1) The full, 3-D body-scan is
partitioned horizontally and vertically into intersecting planes (sagittal,
median, coronal, transverse), which outline various cavities of the body
(ventral - comprised of thoracic, abdominal, pelvic cavities, and dorsal -
comprised of cranial and spinal cavities). (2) Select any one of these sections
(which become highlighted as the mouse-pointer passes over it) and zoom in.
Select the "layer" command, which can represent this portion of the body as
photo-quality flesh, as an assemblage of internal organs, or as a skeletal
structure. View as an assemblage of internal organs: the text-prompt informs you
that the body is comprised of a set of interworking "systems" (skeletal,
nervous, muscular, reproductive, endocrine, circulatory, digestive,
respiratory). The rapidly scrolling text reads: "In anatomical and physiological
analysis, a system is an organization of varying numbers and kinds of organs so
arranged that together they can perform complex functions for the body." (3)
Select any one of the illuminated organs in the body cavity section and zoom in.
A rotating model of the selected organ comes into view, similarly presented as a
wireframe model. The text prompt: "An organ is a complex organization of several
different kinds of tissues so arranged that together they can perform a specific
function related to the physiological system of which they are a part. For
example, the stomach is composed of muscle, connective, epithelial, and nervous
tissues. Muscle and connective tissues form its wall, epithelial and connective
tissues form its lining, and nervous tissue forms a communicative extension
throughout both its wall and its lining." (4) Select any of the highlighted grid
patterns on the surface of the organ and zoom in. The 3-D grid pattern becomes
flattened, and a planar rotating model of one of the tissues of the organ comes
into view. The text prompt: "A tissue is an organization of a great many similar
cells with varying amounts and kinds of nonliving, intercellular substances
between them. The variety of tissues comprise the organs, bones, and surfaces of
(5) Select any of the tiny grid points on the tissue model and zoom
in. A rotating, oval-shaped model comes into view. Viewed as a wireframe model,
numerous smaller shapes are seen inside. The text prompt: "Cells have long been
recognized as the simplest units of living matter that can sustain life and
reproduce themselves. The human body is said to contain some 1 x 10^14 cells,
or, approximately 100 trillion cells. Inside each cell are various organelles
which contribute to the cell's functioning. Although the central nucleus inside
each cell in the human body contains an exact copy of an individual's DNA, cells
perform a variety of different structural and functional tasks in the body." (6)
Select the densely-packed and intertwining string-shapes inside the nucleus of
the cell model and zoom in. The string unwinds itself, straightening out into
discrete segments. The text prompt: "Inside the nucleus of each human cell is
found 46 densely packed chromosomes, 23 inherited from each parent." One by one,
each of the chromosomes is aligned in a grid format on the monitor, each
appearing as a rough, string-shaped "X" character. The text prompt: "Each
chromosome is a long, coiled, string composed of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)."
One of the chromosomes unwinds itself. "The structure of DNA is that of a coiled
double helix, akin to a spiral-shaped ladder. DNA consists of a long sequence of
nucleotides, which are composed of three primary molecular elements: a sugar, a
phosphate molecule, and one of four bases (Adenine, Thymine, Guanine, Cytosine).
In genetic analysis, the particular sequence of nucleotides relates to the
production of proteins, which then go on to perform a variety of biochemical
functions in the organism. The human organism is thought to have some 80,000
genes, each gene composed of a sequence of DNA." The chromosomes are then
re-aligned in the grid and identified by a letter (A, T, C, G) signifying a
particular nucleotide within the DNA sequence, within the chromosomal structure,
within the cell. As this readout of nucleotides begins to scroll, it is made to
match the readout on the margins of the monitor which relates the genetic code
of the body being scanned, so that the information in each section is identical.
(7) Select the "Save As..." and then "Upload" commands. The genetic
information (nucleotide sequences, position on chromosome, known coding
information, known related protein structures) is saved onto a database. This
file folder is then uploaded onto a remote FTP (file transfer protocol) server
as a series of HTML documents for access via the Internet.
This sequence of analytical events, triggered by a set of hypothetical
computerized tasks, is presented here in an intentionally constructive manner.
The gradient from the anthropomorphic-corporeal body to genetic code is,
nevertheless, one of the primary analytical assumptions which informs both
contemporary anatomy and genetics textbooks, and it serves as a relational and
differentiating function between these scientific practices. It is especially
this differentiating character, along the assumed gradient from the macro- to
the micro-biological, that these two significantly distinct modes of logic with
respect to the body become more prominent. In other words, if the anatomical
sciences proceed through an organizing logic of functional parts and wholes (and
here, at the risk of becoming reductive, one could highlight continuities
between Andreas Vesalius's early modern anatomical texts and the informing
principles of anatomy in medical imaging, surgery, and medical care generally),
the "anatomizing" logics of genetics research privileges the relationships
between a textuality of coding and the molecular mechanics of biochemical
processes (transcription and translation of DNA into RNA, production of
proteins, reverse transcription of DNA from RNA).
The question here is twofold. First, what are different logics or
modes of knowledge-production by which molecular biology (in contrast to anatomy
and physiology) approaches and organizes some object termed "the body"?
Secondly, as a socially-embedded science with complex histories, how do specific
forms of the body-language relationship (forms of textualization, taxonomic
fragmentation, complex sign systems) contribute not only to the reproduction of
scientific praxis itself, but also to the production of discrete units relating
to the subject as a body? The first question has to do primarily with the ways
in which a particular scientific practice maps out its terrain of research,
establishing the issues, conceptual nodes, and problems that will be of concern.
The second question has to do with the methodologies, techniques, and
technologies involved in the processes of research, development, and practical
(that is, medical and/or commercial) implementation.
The particular mode of textualization within genetics is qualitatively
different from the constructivist logics of anatomical science. Working from the
molecular level, the body as a whole or in parts is not an explicit part of the
epistemology of genetic research. Classical and contemporary genetics do not
anatomize the microbiological body, as they are concerned with the processes
whereby the body on the biochemical and microbiological level is regulated,
produced, and maintained as a series of information-transmission patterns. If
the cell forms the essential unit of composition of the anatomical body, DNA
does NOT analogously compose the genetic body. The genetic code - the particular
sequence of nitrogenous bases which twist and turn to help form a given
chromosome - is a linearly-arranged, complementary (Adenine always binds to
Thymine, Guanine to Cytosine) "DNA text" based almost entirely on differential
relationships. The letters which geneticists use to signify the sequence of
bases (A for Adenine, T for Thymine, G for Guanine, C for Cytosine) form a
combinatorial series which provides a blueprint for the production of a variety
of amino acids (which, when chained together, form the structural and
biochemical "building blocks" of proteins). When geneticists speak of a genetic
code, most often what is referred to is the relationship between a given
sequence unit and the production of an amino acid.
However, it is not exactly accurate to use linguistic or
"text"-related tropes in discussing the genetic code, since DNA does not,
strictly speaking, have a grammar. This non-grammatical textuality of DNA has
undergone (and is undergoing) several changes since Mendel's experiments with
plant hybrids in the early part of the century. Most notably, it was James
Watson and Francis Crick's research during the 1950s on the structure and
mechanics of DNA that helped to establish the specific "coding" character of
genetic material. Watson and Crick explicitly made reference to the notion of
"genetic information" rather than linguistic signs or a molecular linguistics.
Yet, as many historians of science point out, this conception of DNA was fairly
enclosed; DNA at this point (what physicist Erwin Schroedinger had earlier
dubbed the "master molecule") constituted a highly centralized, hierarchical
information-operation distribution point which ran linearly from the genetic
code to the processes it activated for protein production. In an extension of
classical genetics, Watson and Crick's model concerned itself with the
transmission of units of genetic information, within the cellular processes of
an organism as well as across generations of organisms. As a molecular structure
based almost entirely on a multiplicity of differential, combinatorial
relationships, the genetic "code" was more closely aligned metaphorically with
the notion of data or information established by classical information theory
This cross-disciplinary engagement with the notion of "information"
was, still, only a partial investment in the way that information theory and
cybernetics had defined information during the 1950s. During the same period,
Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver, working at Bell Research Labs, developed their
"mathematical theory of information," which was primarily dependent on regarding
information as a discrete quantity of signals (whether textual, electronic,
digital, or even musical) independent of the quality or content of those
signals. As Weaver pointed out:
The word information, in this theory, is used in a special sense
that must not be confused with its ordinary usage. In particular, information
must not be confused with meaning. In fact, two messages, one of which is
heavily loaded with meaning and the other which is pure nonsense, can be
exactly equivalent, from the present viewpoint, as regards information. 1
For Shannon and Weaver, information was a pattern, a particular
organization in an inverse relationship to entropy, or the tendency of systems
to degrade or become disorganized over time. Though Norbert Wiener's notion of
information in cybernetics (the study of communication and control in systems -
machinic or organismic - based on feedback) contains some differences from that
of Shannon and Weaver, Wiener too discusses information as "negative entropy."
Information theory was likewise conceived of as the "fundamental problem of
communication," which was concerned with "reproducing at one point either
exactly or approximately a message selected at another point"2. In terms
of Shannon's research for Bell Labs, and as an important contribution to
network-based research that led to the development of the Internet, information
theory attempted to map out the highest possible statistical rate of successful
transmission with the lowest possibility for unwanted or excess information,
Given this perspective, Watson and Crick's use of information with
regards to DNA was primarily a metaphorical appropriation, as Evelyn Fox Keller
points out. In contrast to information theory, the content or "meaning" of a
particular DNA sequence was highly important for geneticists; a single point
mutation or alteration in the genetic code would significantly affect a wide
range of biochemical properties in the organism. Though all of this concerns an
emerging paradigm of viewing organisms, machines, and other complex
relationships in terms of communication and information processing systems, the
apparent intersection of information sciences and molecular biology contained
some important differences. Watson and Crick's model differed, then, on the
defining properties of what constituted information, as well as the mechanics of
information as a process (linear transmission as opposed to cybernetics'
However, with the emergence of new techniques and technologies in
genetics and biotechnology research (beginning with the development of
recombinant DNA in the 1970s) the relationship between genetics and informatics
becomes a much more intimate, almost inter-disciplinary instance where the
conceptual node of "information" is continually re-negotiated. A few brief
Recombinant DNA: In 1973 American geneticists Herbert Boyer and
Stanley Cohen performed the first successful transmission of a gene between two
different organisms. Their experiments made use of two types of enzymes
naturally occurring in micro-organisms, restriction enzymes and ligase enzymes,
which, respectively, perform the cutting and stitching procedures of molecules
within a DNA sequence. Using restriction enzymes, they isolated a gene for an
antibiotic resistance and used the same restriction enzyme on DNA from an
African clawed toad. They found that the restriction enzyme EcoR1 not only
cleaved DNA at a specific site, but also synthesized the sticky ends required
for the ligase procedure. After combining these fragments into the first
recombinant use of a plasmid (bacteria), they used these bacterial cells to
reproduce this recombinant gene. Cohen dubbed the replicating plasmid containing
the spliced gene a "chimera," and coined the term "recombinant DNA" to describe
their technique of gene splicing. In 1980 they were granted a patent (the
Stanley Cohen-Herbert Boyer patent applied for in 1974) for the technique of
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR): In the mid-1980s, a group of
researchers working at the biotech startup company Cetus developed a
technological methodology for the large-scale, automated production and analysis
of DNA sequences. Called Polymerase Chain Reaction, this technology applied a
series of heating and cooling cycles to a specified region of DNA. The heating
cycle would weaken and break the bonds holding the double-stranded DNA molecule,
at which time "primers" (beginning and ending molecules used for tagging
specific sites on a DNA sequence) were added, followed by a Polymerase enzyme,
which proceeded to synthesize complementary strands as the cooling cycle was
initiated, forming two double-stranded DNA molecules from a single one. Once
this procedure is repeated, the amount of the desired DNA sequence is
exponentially amplified, making abundant "raw material" available for research.
PCR was one of among many technique-technology hybrids which helped to
contribute to the biotechnology boom of the 1980s, and in 1993 Kary Mullis was
awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his involvement with the development of
In terms of genetic information, the development of recombinant DNA
techniques actually involves two distinct procedures. The first is that of
intentionally (that is, as opposed to naturally occurring mutations in the
genetic sequence) re-organizing DNA, either by producing transgenic types of
organisms (a gene or genetic sequence transferred from one organism to another,
as Cohen and Boyer did), or by introducing specially engineered sequences (DNA
or RNA altered or prepared outside the organism) into the genetic sequence of an
organism. The second procedure relates to the way in which the recombinant
genetic sequence is or is not successfully integrated into the organism's
overall molecular and biochemical makeup. Sometimes this is accomplished through
cell replication normally occurring in the organism, but often is done through
cloning techniques, such as the use of plasmids to effectively mass-produce the
recombinant sequence before being introduced into the organism.
As Paul Rabinow has stated, the invention of PCR not only changed and
challenged genetics and biotechnology research, but it also constitutes a
redefinition of how the organism is approached on the molecular level.
Genes were becoming manipulable biochemical matter. Khorana [a
well-known researcher in genetic cloning] was trying to harness a biological
process (polymerization) as part of a larger project to make an artificial
version of a biological unit, a gene. Mullis's decontextualization and
exponential amplification was the opposite of Khorana's efforts at the mimicry
of nature. Mullis discovered a way to turn a biological process
(polymerization) into a machine; nature served (bio)mechanics. 3
Though the polarization of nature/culture in Rabinow's account might
be nuanced, the relationship between the genetic engineering experiments of the
1970s and the development of PCR in the 1980s is significant. Much of genetic
engineering (including recombinant DNA techniques, genetic cloning, and the use
of restriction enzymes for cutting, ligases for stitching, and reverse
transcriptases for the reverse production of DNA from RNA) had to do with the
harnessing and concerted redirecting of "naturally occurring" biochemical
processes at the molecular level. For example, restriction enzymes are often
found as components of the immune system, identifying and attaching themselves
to foreign elements (antigens) to be destroyed. The precision and specificity of
restriction enzymes made them ideal tools for identifying, marking, and cutting
at particular regions along the DNA molecule, making them one of the major tools
for genetic engineering.
By contrast, PCR, in one sense, had nothing at all to do with genetics
or biotechnology; it is, first of all, a little black box, a technological
object designed for a specific (research-based, industrial, commercial) purpose.
In another sense, though, it is a technology which develops concurrently with
and which is specific to genetics and biotechnology research, and in this sense
PCR technology follows upon the developments of other
genetics/biotechnology-related machines available to laboratories during the 70s
and 80s, such as spectrophotometers (often used for recognizing strong or
denatured bonds in molecules) and DNA synthesizers (which automate the
replicating and transcription processes utilized by genetic engineers). The fact
that bio-technologies such as PCR produce biological components outside of an
organic or organismic context, and that PCR applies computer-based technologies
(such as "loop" programs designed to carry out repetitive tasks) towards
processes not found in the organism, both suggest that a specific type of
cyborgic or technoscientific relationship is being produced within the
discourses and research of molecular biology. A genetically-engineered sequence
of DNA (say, one coding for the production of a particular protein needed by the
immune system), produced in a DNA synthesizer, "tagged" by radioactive molecular
markers (so that researchers can follow the progress of the engineered
sequence's integration into the organism), amplified by PCR, then introduced
into the genetic sequence of an organism - this is indeed a highly complex
instance of the integration of machine and organism (or, better, of machinic and
organismic logics) which Wiener emphasized as one of the primary focal points of
his science of cybernetics in the late 1940s.
Recently, biotechnology and industry-related journals and networks
(Recap, Biospace, Forbes Online) have noted a dual trend in the biotechnology
industry: while the biotechnology boom of the 80s (rises in the stock of biotech
startups, an influx of corporate investment and sponsorship, a growing research
technology industry) has been declining in recent years, there has been an
increase in the (only apparently new) field of "bioinformatics." Generally
speaking, bioinformatics relates to the application of information theory and
information technologies to molecular biology research (specifically, genetic
analysis and biotechnology). Bioinformatics forms a way to organize and
articulate large amounts of genetic information in a way that may be useful for
scientific research. The most prevalent use of bioinformatics has been the
cataloging of genomic sequences from various organisms (including research
produced through the Human Genome Project, and the genetic databasing projects
of such corporations as GenBank), most of which are accessible over the Internet
and Web. This type of databasing is both highly structured and flexible; it must
facilitate access to genomic information and must also allow for modifications
and additions to already-existing information. The databasing of genetic
information allows for several types of research-based activity: (1) accessing
and searching the database for particular genes and/or genetic sequences, (2)
the development of techniques and methods for analyzing the production of amino
acids and/or proteins from RNA sequences, (3) the comparative analysis of
protein sequences, and (4) the development of techniques and technologies for
working with molecular modeling and molecular structure.
As one particular example of the intersection between information
theory and genetics, bioinformatics involves, first, the application of
techniques of organization to data signifying molecular structures and
relationships. From this perspective, information theory operates, as it does in
its classical definition, indifferently to content; in the organization of
information, greater emphasis is placed on the medium of information access
(e.g., the Internet and computer databases) and the modes of logic through which
access of information will occur (cgi-forms for searches, ftp procedures for
downloading information). It is particularly in this last element (modes of
logic that will frame information access) that the field's relationship to the
database will begin to matter. Certainly there are universal modes of database
access (alphabetical, chronological, taxonomic), but in the case of
bioinformatics, the mode of logic whereby the database will be accessed will
depend upon how genetic information has been and is thought as an informational
structure. Many searchable databases simply break down genetic information along
the lines of how genetic information itself is organized in the organism, from
the perspective of genetics and biotech research. That is, searches may proceed
by specifying a particular chromosome, then by a particular region along each
chromosome. Alternately, a search may be done for a specific sequence or gene
without knowledge of its exact location, or searches may be done of all relevant
genetic information pertaining to a particular disease or genetically related
Generally speaking, then, bioinformatics applies in a redoubled manner
the organization of information to genetic information (genomic sequences and
genes) gathered through research. One question here, however, is to what extent
this enframing action of information theory necessitates a reconfiguration
within genetics of how genetic information is perceived. On the one hand, the
information that comprises genetic sequences is still considered in a linear,
sequential, and radically differential manner (the chain of nitrogenous bases
comprising the DNA molecule). On the other, there is the process of informatics
which treats units of information (here, sequences within DNA molecules) as a
particular type of pattern defined through the perspective of genetics on how
genetic information is reproduced, transmitted, and distributed in the organism.
Bioinformatics presents an instance where the already thoroughly
textualized science of genetics is approached on an almost totally simulational
level. This occurs in two, overlapping ways. First, in the translation of
genetic research and its organization into a collection of integrated,
interrelated, sign systems. For example, in protein analysis (studying the
structures and relationships in the production of proteins from DNA), the DNA
molecule, coded as a sequence of letters (ATCG), is put into an algorithmic
program based on biochemical knowledge of protein structure and composition, and
which can predict protein production, as well as the analysis of the protein
being studied, which is equally presented as a series of letters (abbreviations
for amino acids in a chain) with measurements relating the positions of
particular molecules. All of this takes place at the dual level of genetic and
The second way in which this redoubled textualization takes place is
in molecular modeling. Often 3-D graphics programs are used to render and
animate a given molecule, including color-coding schemes and multiple
perspectives (ball-and-stick, full-volume molecules, chemical bonds, wireframe).
Here technologies of visualization operate in a manner not unlike modern
anatomy. A body (a molecular body) is recomposed using various diagrammatic
strategies (superimposition of text, diagrams, color-coding) and is presented in
a way in which it is isolated from any macro-context within the body. However,
whereas anatomy depends upon and assumes the visual-representational referent of
the visible, often dissected, corporeality of the human body, genetics is
engaged in a structural-visual rendering activity which is equally about the
production of a body. What is at stake in anatomy is the articulation and formal
interpretion of the anatomical body. What is at stake in genetics is the
composition and construction of a model, based less on visual-mimetic homologies
than on the (biochemical, genetic) informational structure or pattern which
composes a given molecule (e.g., a particular protein).
This is clearer by the standards of contemporary genetic research,
which has moved away from the classical proposition put forth by Watson and
Crick, among others, suggesting that DNA was the "master molecule" controlling
and ordering all biochemical and genetic processes within the organism. From
this centralized, nodal viewpoint, contemporary genetic research has moved
towards a more distributed, networking model which de-emphasizes the functional
autonomy of DNA, and highlights the multiplicity of parallel interactions within
and outside the nucleus of the cell. As Manuel de Landa has suggested, this is a
move towards viewing molecular processes within the organism as pattern
relationships, rhizomatic networks, and "bifurcation" points which depend on the
ways in which the organism at the molecular level functions and continues to
produce itself as a complex system. Thus DNA by contemporary standards turns out
to be relatively inert (it actually does nothing in itself), archival (it
contains a great deal of molecular information that forms a kind of structural
reference point for molecular processes), and partial (it is not an autonomous
agent but interwoven into the molecular makeup of the organism).
The difficulty with all of this is that the abstractness of the
relation of molecular biology and informatics to some notion of "the body" has
become so tenuous that one is tempted to suggest the disappearance of that
cultural-material construct the body in the face of these developing
technosciences. Much of this is evident in media reports and anti-genetics
publications, many of which approach and even assume the gene as an anatomical
object, something akin to a limb or an organ. In cases concerning genetic
patenting, to codify genes in this way is to violate an individual's self and
body, their genes being proper to the individual in the same way that an organ
or limb is. But, rather than simply add to the already lengthy list of claims
for the disappearance of the body, perhaps what is also at stake is the
tenability - or rather "legibility" - of discourses encoding the body as
corporeal, anthropomorphic, biologically sexed, and semi-autonomous with
relation to the environment. In other words, there is no body to disappear with
the application of informatics to genetics, for, at least since the 1950s,
genetics and molecular biology generally have always been about considering the
organism as an information-processing system. Despite the changes in genetic
research since Watson and Crick's conscious adoption of the information trope,
the body that results from the complex intersection of genetics and informatics
is primarily about the processes involving a range of discrete patterns of
information within a flexible yet articulated network.
But if the category of the body is no longer tenable, perhaps the case
is different with regards to what N. Katherine Hayles terms "embodiment." Hayles
suggests that embodiment is always at some proximity of difference to the
"body," where the latter is taken as that historically shifting hegemonic
concept to which the former is never identical. In information theory terms,
embodiment constitutes the noise differential of the body, and thus is also
never prior to or external to those sets of normative constraints. Embodiment
is, then, also a contextualized materialization; as scientific objects called
genes, as informatic objects called databases, as communicative objects called
networks. Thus, in looking at bioinformatics and its manifestations on the
Internet, one primary question is how those databases and the networks they
operate on relate to various notions of the body and embodiment; how "bodies"
termed "genes," "data," "sequences," "networks," "organization," and "databases"
are all technoscientifically deployed, as well as how a range of possibilities
constituting "embodiment" are equally enframed.
Shannon, Claude, and Warren Weaver. The Mathematical Theory of
Communication. Chicago: Univ. of Illinois, 1965, p.8.
Rabinow, Paul. Making PCR: A Story of Biotechnology. Chicago: University
of Chicago, 1996, p.9.
Beardsley, Tim. "An Express Route to
the Genome?" Scientific American online.
Bud, Robert. "Biotechnology in the Twentieth Century." Social Studies of
Science, vol.21 (1991), 415-57.
Critical Art Ensemble. Flesh Machine: Cyborgs, Designer Babies, and New
Eugenic Consciousness. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1998.
De Landa, Manuel. "Nonorganic Life." Zone 6: Incorporations, eds. Jonathan
Crary and Sanford Kwinter. New York: Urzone, 1992.
Frank-Kamenetskii, Maxim. Unraveling DNA: The Most Important Molecule of
Life. Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1997.
GenBank/National Center for
Hafner, Katie, and Matthew Lyon. Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins
of the Internet. New York: Touchstone, 1998.
and Technoscience. New York: Routledge, 1997.
Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. New York: Routledge,
Hayles, N. Katherine. "Boundary Disputes: Homeostasis, Reflexivity, and the
Foundations of Cybernetics." Configurations 2, vol.3 (1994): 441-467.
Hayles, N. Katherine. "The Materiality of Informatics." Configurations 1.1
Hubbard, Ruth, and Elijah Wald. Exploding the Gene Myth. Boston:
Human Genome Organization (HUGO).
Genome Project Information.
Kay, Lily E. "Cynernetics, Information, Life: The Emergence of Scriptural
Representations of Heredity." Configurations 5, vol.1 (1997), 23-91.
Keller, Evelyn Fox. Refiguring Life: Metaphors of Twentieth-Century
Biology. New York: Columbia, 1995. Kevles, Daniel, and Leroy Hood, eds.
The Code of Codes: Scientific and Social Issues in the Human Genome
Project. Cambridge: Harvard, 1992.
Kimbrell, Andrew. The Human Body Shop: The Cloning, Engineering, and
Marketing of Life. Washington D.C.: Gateway, 1997.
Nicholl, Desmond S. T. An Introduction to Genetic Engineering.
Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1994.
Rabinow, Paul. Making PCR: A Story of Biotechnology. Chicago:
University of Chicago, 1996.
Rabinow, Paul. "Artificiality and Enlightenment: From Sociobiology to
Biosociality." Zone 6: Incorporations, ed. Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter.
New York: Urzone, 1992.
Shannon, Claude, and Warren Weaver. The Mathematical Theory of
Communication. Chicago: Univ. of Illinois, 1965.
TIGR - The Institute for Genomic Research.
Wiener, Norbert. Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal
and the Machine. Cambridge: MIT, 1996.
Wiener, Norbert. The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and
Society. New York: Da Capo, 1954.
Eugene Thacker teaches technology & culture at Rutgers
University, and is currently working on a dissertation dealing with the
technoscientific body. He is involved in multimedia performance, and his current
projects for the web can be viewed at CTHEORY MULTIMEDIA and embody_dissolve.
© CTheory. All Rights Reserved