Bacterial Money

Bacterial Money is a work by Raphael Kim. It is part of the exhibition Blueprints for the Unknown (2014).

Proposal for an alternative currency.

We live in a world where the global economy is experiencing slow growth since the US financial crisis which has exposed the unsustainable fiscal policies many countries. Such economic climate has forced some countries to create and adopt alternative, local currencies in order to encourage economic growth whilst functioning in parallel with the national tender.

We also live in a world with changing perceptions of micro-organisms. We are not only manipulating their genetic makeup but also using the cells (and the DNA within) to be used as carriers of valuable data and materials.

Microbial Money looks at the potential role of synthetic biology in the world of finance. Could we design micro-organisms to address issues of modern economic downturn? Could we create an alternative, living currency which consists of microbial ‘chassis’ that are capable of retaining valuable genetic data, and could we design a central ‘bank’ that produces and controls such living currencies?

The project hones in on a species of diatom (T. pseudonana) and aims to re-package the organism to be used as a living currency, and pilot tested amongst the DIY biology community. T. pseudonana are a hardy microbe that are tolerant to harsh environments and can be modified to carry valuable genetic data that may code for restriction enzymes – a set of valuable proteins that are commonly used by molecular biologists and DIY biologists.

The main aim is not so much to directly influence or solve economical issues within a society, but to expose unexpected interactions between humans and microbes. Would the changing economic and political health allow us to find a new role for micro-organisms in our society, and what potential implications could this have?

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