Mittwoch, 15. Juni 2016, 17:30 - 19:00 iCal

Vienna STS Talk Lisa Onaga

Seeking the safety line: Subterranean silkworm biobanking in Japan before and after 2011

Department of Science and Technology Studies / Seminar Room / Staircase II / 6th floor (NIG)
Universitätsstraße 7, 1010 Wien


The reliance upon electricity to manage the indoor environments of scientific laboratories came under scrutiny among members of the National Bioresource Project shortly after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant disasters took place in northeastern Japan in 2011. Discussions grew in this consortium about how to better prepare for calamity and "back up" the stocks of cell lines and model organisms that facilitate the material exchanges that define life sciences research both within and beyond Japan. Among these model organisms, the lucrative silkworm is an emblematic creature cultivated for its silk, and more recently, for its genetic mutations. A focus on the domesticated insect raises an opportunity to examine the historical formation and maintenance of the silkworm as bioresource in the 21st century.

This presentation focuses on how the triple disasters commanded awareness about energy-dependent infrastructure and prompted the reintroduction of environmental uncertainty as a norm in the work of perpetuating silkworm life in Japan. Efforts to control the climate and to enhance human cultivation techniques in the nursery and in the laboratory have aimed to reduce—and, ideally, to overcome—biological and economic uncertainties. At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, stable wind caves carved by lava tubes were once used to store, protect, and extend the viability of silkworm eggs, allowing for multiple silk harvests. In the search for a safety line in the landscape, the historical recall and re-appropriation of these subterranean spaces today signifies a biocuratorial approach that unharnesses some silkworms qua resources from the built environment.

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Department of Science and Technology Studies


Elisabeth Haslinger
Institut für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung
01 4227 49601