PINK CHICKEN PROJECT
Coloring all chickens pink with a Gene Drive
Re-occupying the Rock Strata
PINK CHICKEN PROJECT
Coloring all chickens pink with a Gene Drive
Re-occupying the Rock Strata
Pink Chicken Project suggests using a “Gene Drive” to change the colour of the entire species Gallus Gallus Domesticus to pink.
Being the world's most common bird, the bones of the 60 billion chickens that are killed every year leave a distinct trace in the rock strata (the earth's crust), a marker for the new geological age - the Anthropocene.
To re-occupy this identifier of our age, the project suggests genetically modifying a chicken with pink bones and feathers, using a gene from the insect cochineal to produce a pigment that will be fossilized when combined with the calcium of the bone.
Spreading this gene with the recently invented Gene Drive technique, the species could be permanently altered, on a global scale, in just a few years.
Thereby modifying the future fossil record, colouring the geological trace of humankind, pink!
Pink, is a symbolic color, an opposition to the current global power dynamics, that enable and aggravate the anthropocentric violence forced upon the non-human world.
The pink chicken DNA also carries an encoded message, that calls for an ecological discourse that must include issues of social justice, in order to achieve the radical restructuring of society needed to break the death grip of the sixth extinction.
Lying somewhere between utopia and dystopia, the project attempts to redirect focus to the underlying ethical and political issues;
What future do we really want, and why?
And can we stay humble in facing what is unknowable?
Human actions have altered the Earth so profoundly that we have entered a new geological epoch - the Anthropocene.
The stability of the biosphere is threatened, with an uncomfortably high probability of an uninhabitable planet within the next century.
This devastation will leave traces in the rock strata for geologists of the future: such as plastic pollution, soot from power stations, nuclear fallout, and surprisingly, the fossilized bones of the global proliferation of the domestic chicken.
The pink chicken carries a message in it’s DNA, encoded into As, Ts, Gs, and Cs, a time capsule readable for thousands of years:
“We the humans of planet earth, write this message at the beginning of the Anthropocene.
The current devastation of the planet is not the result of activities undertaken by the whole species Homo Sapiens: instead it derives from a small group of humans in power. We urge you to fight this oppression: for it enables and aggravates the anthropocentric violence forced upon the non-human world.
Sent in hope that you have re-imagined us as a biological organism, joined in symbiosis with each other and the planet.”
With the power of the Gene Drive technique, the traces of humanity is no longer in the hands of Monsanto and Dupont, the radiation of nuclear bombs or the oil spills of Exxon Mobil, but also in yours.
Stratum of the Anthropocene
Stratum of the Anthropocene
CRISPR is a recently invented genome editing tool, that is used to permanently modify genes in living cells and organisms. When used in a particular way, it creates a genetic system known as a Gene Drive.
This “drive” greatly enhances the spread of the genetic modification, to the extent that it can fully propagate to all individuals of a species in just 12-19 generations.
With Gene Drives, we now have the tool to alter almost any gene in any sexually reproducing species and spread that alteration through wild populations over generations, permanently altering the entire species.
An offspring of our pink chicken will inherit one drive-containing and one wild-type chromosome. The drive contains a CRISPR system that cuts the wild-type chromosome, causing the cell to copy the drive when it uses the drive- containing chromosome as a template to repair the damage. Because it now has two copies of the drive (and the pink gene), all of the organism’s offspring will inherit a drive-containing chromosome to repeat the process.
This procedure is not complicated. It does not require any expensive equipment, the reagents and DNA sequences are cheap and there are currently no regulations.
Theoretically, one gene-drive chicken is enough to change the color of the entire species. The short lifespan of the broiler chicken (6 weeks) makes it a good target for gene-drive, spreading to all individuals on the order of a few years.
We target a sequence only expressed in the osteoblasts (bone cells) of the chicken, so that the pink pigment is only produced in the bone. The gene for the pink colour is extracted from the insect cochineal, that produces a chemical called carminic acid. The acid, when combined with the calcium of the bone, forms carmine dye, one of the most light- and heat-stable and oxidation-resistant of all the natural organic colourants. Carmine (the pink pigment) is a also common food colorant (E120). It safe to eat, and not harmful for the chicken.
The manifest is encoded into DNA of the chicken, a procedure currently suggested as a suitable mechanism for long term storage of information. This is due to the chemical stability of the DNA molecule, and because the cost and complexity of sequencing (reading) DNA is expected to drop radically in the future.
Due to the power of gene-drives, they are a controversial topic. There is currently a discussion if and how they could be regulated. It is important to think thoroughly about how we should approach this new power.
What do you think?
Would you like to accelerate this effort by ordering your own pink egg?
Write a short motivation describing why/why not in the message box below, and we will get back to you!
The Pink Chicken Project is a story to build other stories on; a speculative stirring that ties together multiple interlocking systems of ecological and social crisis. The project rejects the current violence inflicted upon the non-human world, but is itself an act of violence through the non-consensual modification of the bodies of billions of chickens. It poses questions of the impact and power of synthetic biology and gene drives, but uses the very same technologies to formulate the critique. It highlights the unfathomable scale of industrial agriculture and factory farming, while at the same time depending on these systems as a vessel for it’s manifest. It re-occupies the strata; not de-occupies.
The intention of such contradictions is an attempt to allow complex entanglements to remain complex, an invite to think about “why?”. A move to re-invigorate the public imaginary in an ecological discourse that must include issues of social justice in order to achieve the radical restructuring of society needed to break the death grip of the sixth extinction.
Kahn, J. (February 2016). Gene editing can now change an entire species — forever. TED. https://www.ted.com/talks/jennifer_kahn_gene_editing_can_now_change_an_entire_species_forever
Borel, B. (12 September 2016) When Evolution Fights Back Against Genetic Engineering. The Atlantic Online. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/09/gene-drives/499574/
FAQs: Gene drives. Wyss Institute. https://wyss.harvard.edu/staticfiles/newsroom/pressreleases/Gene%20drives%20FAQ%20FINAL.pdf
Oye et. al. (08 Aug 2014) Regulating gene drives. Science. Vol. 345, Issue 6197, pp. 626-628. DOI: 10.1126/science.1254287
Reardon, S. (March 9, 2016) Welcome to CRISPR's Gene-Modified Zoo. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/welcome-to-crispr-s-gene-modified-zoo/
ETC Group (08 June 2016) Stop The Gene Bomb! ETC Group Comment on NAS Report on Gene Drives http://www.etcgroup.org/content/stop-gene-bomb-etc-group-comment-nas-report-gene-drives
Oishi et. al. (06 April 2016) Targeted mutagenesis in chicken using CRISPR/Cas9 system DOI:10.1038/srep23980
Will Steffen, Paul J. Crutzen and John R. McNeill. (2007). The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature? Royal Swedish Academy of 2007. Ambio Vol. 36, No. 8, December 2007. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18240674
Rockström, J. (30 March 2015) Big World, Small Planet: Abundance Within Planetary Boundaries. Lecture at Centre for International Governance Innovation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOJYWDsQD4s
Steffen, W. et. al. (13 Feb 2015) Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planet. Science:Vol. 347, Issue 6223, DOI: 10.1126/science.1259855
Steffen, W. Broadgate, L. Deutsch, O. Gaffney, C. Ludwig. (2015) The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: the Great Acceleration. The Anthropocene Review. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2053019614564785
Heather Davis, H. Turpin, E. (2015). Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies. Open Humanities Press.
Donna J. Haraway (September 2016) Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press.
Waters, C. N. The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science 08 Jan 2016: Vol. 351, Issue 6269 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad2622
Biello, D. (7 January 2016) Humans Leave a Telltale Residue on Earth. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/humans-leave-a-telltale-residue-on-earth1/
Williams, M. et. al. (2015) The Anthropocene biosphere. The Anthropocene Review. Vol 2, Issue 3, pp. 196 - 219. 10.1177/2053019615591020
William F. Ruddiman, Erle C. Ellis, Jed O. Kaplan, Dorian Q. Fuller (03 Apr 2015) Defining the epoch we live in. Science, Vol. 348, Issue 6230, pp. 38-39 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa7297
Carrington, D. (29 August 2016) The Anthropocene epoch: scientists declare dawn of human- influenced age. The Guardian Online. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/29/declare-anthropocene-epoch-experts-urge-geological-congress-human-impact-earth
Carrington, D. (31 August 2016) How the domestic chicken rose to define the Anthropocene. The Guardian online. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/31/domestic-chicken-anthropocene-humanity-influenced-epoch
Andrew Lawler, Jerry Adler. (June 2012) How the Chicken Conquered the World. Smithsonian Magazine. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-the-chicken-conquered-the-world-87583657
(Jul 27th 2011) Counting chickens. The Economist Online. http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/07/global-livestock-counts
Susan M. Kidwell. (2015) Biology in the Anthropocene: Challenges and insights from young fossil records. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/16/4922
Yaniv Erlich,Dina Zielinski (2017). DNA Fountain enables a robust and efficient storage architecture. Science 03 Mar 2017: Vol. 355, Issue 6328, pp. 950-954, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaj2038 http://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6328/950
Byrgess, M. (3 March 2017) A movie, operating system and Amazon gift card have been stored in DNA. Wired Magazine Online. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/dna-data-storage
M. E. Allentoft, et. al. (2012) The half-life of DNA in bone: measuring decay kinetics in 158 dated fossils. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 279(1748):4724– 4733. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23055061
Colleary, Caitlin et. al. (September 28, 2015) Chemical, experimental, and morphological evidence for diagenetically altered melanin in exceptionally preserved fossils. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1509831112
Steven Mackay (September 29, 2015) Pigment from fossils reveals color of extinct mammals for the first time, researchers say. Virginia Tech. http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2015/09/092915-research-fossilcolor.html
Latour, B. Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene. New Literary History, Volume 45, Number 1, Winter 2014, pp. 1-18 (Article).
Morton, T. (2013). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. University Of Minnesota Press.
Szerszynski, B (2016). The Anthropocene monument: on relating geological and human time. European Journal of Social Theory.