Arguably big biology: Sociology, spatiality and the knockout mouse project
Date: 1 December 2013
Following the completion of the Human Genome Project (HGP), a critical challenge has been how to make biological sense of the amassed sequence data and translate this into clinical applications. A range of large biological research projects, as well as more distributed experimental collaborations, are seeking to realise this through ...
Following the completion of the Human Genome Project (HGP), a critical challenge has been how to make biological sense of the amassed sequence data and translate this into clinical applications. A range of large biological research projects, as well as more distributed experimental collaborations, are seeking to realise this through translational research initiatives and postgenomic approaches. Drawing on interviews with key participants, this article explores the biological assumptions, sociological challenges and spatial imaginaries at play in arguments around one of these developments, which is using genetically altered mice to understand gene function. The knockout mouse project (KOMP) is a large-scale initiative in functional genomics, seeking to produce a ‘knockout mouse’ for each gene in the mouse’s genome, which can then be used to answer questions about gene function in mammals. KOMP is frequently framed as one successor to the HGP, emblematic of the ambitions of internationally coordinated biological research. However, the development of new technologies for generating and managing genetically altered mice, alongside the challenge of asking biologically meaningful questions of vast numbers of animals, is creating new frictions in this extension and intensification of biological research practices. This article introduces two separate approaches to the future of international research using mutant mice as stakeholders to negotiate the biological, sociological and spatial challenges of collaboration. The first centres on the directed research practices and sociological assumptions of KOMP, as individual researchers are reorganised around shared animals, databases and infrastructures. The second highlights an alternative vision of the future of biomedical research, using distributed management to enhance the sensitivities and efficiencies of existing experimental practices over space. These exemplify two different tactics in the organisation of an ‘arguably’ big biology. They also critically embody different sociological and spatial imaginaries for the collaborative practices of international translational research.
College of Life and Environmental Sciences
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