Originally published in Biotechnology Newswatch, 12/20/1999, pp. 1, 3.

Artist to teach dogs new trick - sit, roll over, turn green and glow

Sally Lehrman

If you’re tired of icicle lights and colored bulbs, Brazilian artist Eduardo Kac has something in store for you.
He has proposed creating a fluorescent dog as the first in a series of “transgenic artworks” that the public can take home and raise as companions or grow in the backyard.

Kac says he plans to insert the green fluorescent protein gene from the Pacific Northwest jellyfish into a dog’s genome so that it will emit bright green light when exposed to ultraviolet or blue light.

The GFP K-9 will “literally have a colorful personality and be the founder of a new transgenic lineage, Kac explains on his web site.

The artwork, he takes care to elaborate in an email interview, “is not the dog itself, but the loving, nurturing relationship formed between the family (in this case, my family) and the transgenic dog.”

Kac says much of his work focuses on the relationships created by art and has led him to research new forms of interaction, including interspecies communication. He goes on to explain, “GFP K-9 is not about making genetic art objects. It is about creating transgenic social subjects.”

Kac points out that the genetic manipulation of dogs has a long history, although he admits that this particular effort may take a few years to complete. And his work would be far from a new form of genetic experimentation, he adds, because green fluorescent protein technology is a well-known tool in molecular biology.

At the same time, he argues, the green dog will be able to shed new light on social and ethical issues that until now have remained outside the environment of “scientific rationalism.”

“My work often explores the problems and the possibilities of scientific principles and technological developments,” he wrote in response to a reporter’s questions. “My work seeks to establish a dialogue between art and these disciplines, questioning their premises and investigating both their hidden and manifest social implications.”

The luminescent dog breed would demonstrate how quickly new technology can leap into new areas without open debate, while at the same time highlighting the idea that a transgenic animal deserves as much love and care as any other.
Kac says it is important for artists to participate in genetic engineering in order to enhance societal debate.

“We must channel our fears productively and study, learn and get involved,” he wrote. “If only professionals from a few disciplines are familiar with this vocabulary, important decisions that will affect everyone will be made by a few.”

Kac also hopes the fluorescent canine might have medicinal value for its subject species. Someday, he wrote, the use of the glowing marker might aid in the identification and cure of genetic diseases in dogs.

Kac already has explored transgenic art with “Genesis,” in which bacteria containing DNA spelling out a sentence from the Bible mutate with the help of participants connected via the Internet. Soon, he predicts, artists will be able to become genetic programmers who contribute to global diversity by inventing new life forms.

Don’t expect the GFP K-9 to become next year’s Elmo, however. “GFP K-9 will be a member of my family, not a business,” he wrote. “Offspring will not be sold. I will not sign contracts with breeding facilities. I will not patent GFP K-9.”

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