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The Gurdon Institute


The Institute participated in the Festival of Ideas for the first time in 2018, displaying the artistic output of our Experiments in Art & Science project for the public.

You can watch a video about the final event in Experiments in Art & Science here

Borked Brain by David Blandy (collaborated with the Livesey lab)

FOI_Festival Page

David Blandy worked with the Livesey Lab, to produce a film in 2D and 3D (viewed with a VR headset). David observed the Livesey Lab's visualisations of human brains grown from stem cells, and used this research as a way to think about consciousness, identity and technology. View Borked Brain here in 2D.

The Livesey Lab investigates the development, evolution and degeneration of the brain by studying neurons grown from stem cells (usually derived from skin samples).Neuronscan be grown in Petri dishes either as a layer of cells or as structured spheres of tissue called ‘organoids’. Using these cell models, researchers are able to compare neurons of patients affected by Alzheimer’s disease with unaffected neurons to study the underlying mechanisms of the disease.

In his piece, David considers what it means to be an embodied subject (a human) looking at something that might have its own consciousness. There still isn’t a satisfactory scientific explanation of what human consciousness actually is and how we can discover whether a bundle of neurons in a dish has something that doesn’t have a definition. This work is about the very act of looking at something and what that means, what we choose to look at, and what we choose to understand from that act of looking.

Morpho Chemical by Rachel Pimm (collaborated with the Miska lab)

Rachel explored the hybrid and fluid concepts of ‘naturalness and artificialness’, usually by focusing on environments, ecologies and ecosystems from the point of view of non-human agents such as plants, minerals, worms, water, rubber or gravity.

Her piece is based on  conversations with members of the Miska Lab at the Gurdon Institute. The Miska Lab investigates epigenomics (how genes and other stretches of DNA in cells can be influenced to be switched“on” or “off” to influence the generation of different cells within the body). When epigenetics influencing gene expression goes wrong, infertility or cancer can result. To study this mechanism, the lab uses human cell cultures, and model organisms: nematode worms, honey bees, mice, and African cichlid fish.In addition to looking at the DNA in their cells, scientists also examine colour patterns on cichlid fish using a mathematical framework developed by Alan Turing. This analysis helps us to understand more about how new species form.

Morpho Chemical is a narrative text work exploring and performing the interconnected physical, chemical, biological and mathematical forces at play in morphology; the way things form and grow. Based on research into the Gurdon Institute, the archives of Alan Turing and D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson and written in a state of health-related and academic neurological confusion, the text attempts to re-enact the complex process of understanding the commonalities of the laws of nature, whilst being subject to them.

My Buddy by Laura Wilson (collaborated with the Zegerman lab)

Laura is interested in the ‘liveness’ of dough as a material containing budding yeast and bacteria; it is never static, but consistently growing and morphing.  Her recent performances see lumps of fresh dough in constant flow of movement with the human body, becoming more yeasty and alive through contact with the human body and the surrounding air.

Experiments in Art and Science Main Page

My Buddy is a new performance inspired by how yeast cells move and was developed during a period of research with scientists from the Zegerman lab at the Gurdon Institute. Working with members of the lab, Laura carried out experiments on wild yeast cultures, extracting their DNA and observing the movements of cells under the microscope.

The ZegermanLab uses baker’s yeast, also known as S. cerevisiae, as a tool to investigate how DNA is copied and transmitted from cell to daughter cell in a process called DNA replication. This process must be completed accurately before a cell can divide. The lab is studying how this works because inaccuracies in DNA replication contribute to cancer in humans.

Laura says: Budding yeast cells behave in a very similar way to humans, and we often use human characteristics to describe their behaviour. When looking after a sourdough yeast starter, you need to wake it up from its sleep to make bread. When budding yeast cells are active, they divide. They breathe out carbon dioxide. They interact with each other. They shmoo (flirt) to find a mate. They live in colonies.