Bioanarchy in the UK

Eva Auer
Sean Greaves

A design fiction project about Brexit, biodesign and more-than-human civil disobedience.

About the project:

Bioanarchy in the UK speculates about new forms of biological civil disobedience in a post-Brexit, post-biodesign United Kingdom. In this future, the open release of genetically modified organisms has been significantly deregulated to help facilitate biological entrepreneurship.

Where dominant narratives focus on emerging biotechnology's utilitarian medical and industrial applications, these fictional scenarios consider the posibility for alternative, socio-political applications to emerge.

Presented as three fictional case studies set in the year 2029 (ten years after the UK withdrew from the European Union), the project speculates about how fringe political groups that were active in the UK during the 2010s could appropriate the tools biodesign to pursue their respective agendas. Through this project, we ask the biodesign community to consider how power, politics and ethics should shape their emerging practices.

Who should be able to design and modify organisms? and what are the acceptable reasons to do so?

Case study 1: wildflower protests

As you walk through the neighbourhood you live in, you have probably encountered a bank of poppies covered in neon blue bruises. What you are seeing is the result of the world’s first gene-drive as protest, which utilised the agency of living things to propagate through their environment as a means of spreading a political message.

Over the past 10 years within university labs, multiple species of poppies have been modified to contain a genetic switch which floods their petals with mTurquoise chromoproteins when grown in soils contaminated with high levels of heavy metals. This modification was engineered to ensure its inheritance to all offspring of the flowers, allowing it to spread through existing poppy populations.

The deliberate release of the modified flower seeds via bird-feeders was perpetrated by a renegade researcher. They intended to make visible the enduring environmental legacy of the industries dismantled during the 1980s. While the economic benefits of these industries for the workers have gone, their contamination remains, continuing to impact the health of the area’s current population.

Case study 2: biohacked buildings

Over the past 10 years, one of the most controversial uses of genetic modification has been the biohacking of properties in areas of East and South London. Following the UK's exit from the European Union, housing prices in London continued to escalate wildly, with increasing numbers of properties being bought as an investment and sitting empty.

Anarchists groups such as the ORALS (Order of Rampaging Anarchist Life Scientists) respond to these conditions through utilising open source genes accessed online to combat societal issues faced by low income communities. In an effort to devalue empty properties in London, the group began injecting genetically modified bacteria into brickwork, designed to grow through the walls and release airborne non-toxic hallucinogenic particles within the building's interior. Widely considered as invasive, properties colonised by these bacteria are significantly devalued due to the public's decisive perceptions of hallucinogens.

Case study 3: subdermal microbial storage

In response to an increased uptake in DIY bioengineers developing their own microbial products for private use, the government has increased their microbial surveillance within public spaces and airports. Coupled with the growing presence of patent trolls looking to exploit peer-to-peer DIY innovations, biohackers are beginning to experiment with radical methods of protecting and concealing their creations from being stolen or taken from them.

One such procedure involves embedding tiny implant pouches within the skin to temporarily store designed microbes via a needle transfer. Contained within inconspicuous pimple-like sites within the skin, the implant maintains their creations at perfect temperatures for survival whilst protecting the host from infection.

BioDesign Challenge 2017


Thank you to Biodesign Challenge for their support of this project.

This project was developed with supervision, advice and feedback from: Naomi Nakayama, Eric Thorand, Larissa Pschetz, Anais Moisy, Bettina Nissen, Jane Calvert and Ellie Powell.

Copyright © Joe Revans 2023