Biodigital references I

Here is the line from Tron Legacy

and some other uses of the term –

BioDigital (Registered trade mark)

“BioDigital is dedicated to using state of the art biomedical visualization systems to improve training, communication and the interpretation of medical information.”

This visualisation system has a BioDigital Human to help explore anatomy – the aesthetic is a bit Gunther von Hagens – and has echoes of the Visible Human project of the 1990s.

Fascinating also is the Masters programme in Biodigital Architecture at UIC Barcelona:

“the first that treated the subject of architecture from the biological and digital perspectives, and the first to provide systematic studios, workshops and seminars with the founders of digital organicism, the new cutting edge of the 21st century. Within the context of the research line on genetic architectures at the ESARQ School of Architecture, students will pay special attention to new cybernetic-digital and new ecologic-environmental architectural design as a way of developing biodigital architecture, emergence, genetic and generative concepts in the biological and digital worlds, biomimesis, biolearning, morphogenesis, etc.”

Biodigital jazz

I co-edited a special issue of Communications with Caroline Bassett and Maren Hartmann recently – it was an outcome of a workshop and collaboration with the ECREA digital culture and communication section. We enjoyed working on this and being in contact with everyone who contributed to it. I got to write about the film Tron Legacy which I really appreciated. I linked this to bodies in digital culture and even got to use the quote ‘Biodigital Jazz’ from the film, which shows that the term biodigital also turns up in popular culture.

Revisiting digital technologies: envisioning biodigital bodies

Citation Information: Communications. Volume 36, Issue 3, Pages 291–312, ISSN (Online) 1613-4087, ISSN (Print) 0341-2059,DOI: 10.1515/comm.2011.015, August 2011


In this paper the contemporary practices of human genomics in the 21stcentury are placed alongside the digital bodies of the 1990s. The primary aim is to provide a trajectory of the biodigital as follows: First, digital bodies and biodigital bodies were both part of the spectacular imaginaries of early cybercultures. Second, these spectacular digital bodies were supplemented in the mid-1990s by digital bodywork practices that have become an important dimension of everyday communication. Third, the spectacle of biodigital bodies is in the process of being supplemented by biodigital bodywork practices, through personal or direct-to-consumer genomics. This shift moves a form of biodigital communication into the everyday. Finally, what can be learned from putting the trajectories of digital and biodigital bodies together is that the degree of this communicative shift may be obscured through the doubled attachment of personal genomics to everyday digital culture and high-tech spectacle.

Keywords:: genomics biodigital bodies spectacle everyday

BSSN column in G-Scene on gay genes


By Kate O’Riordan

Gay genes: from acceptance to anger

In the early 1990s the gay gene caused quite a stir. There was lots of media coverage and Dr Dean Hamer who claimed the discovery became something of a public figure. An enduring question about identity – are we born or made – seemed to be answerable.  T-shirts were printed up in San Francisco and worn in the Castro with the legend ‘thanks for the genes mom!’ However, in the ensuing twenty years a lot has changed.  A more recent engagement with the question of the gay gene by an LGBT community in Newcastle registered much more anger than approval. A closer look at the reception of the gay gene tells us that even in the early 1990s not everyone was happy about the claim.

Biomedical explanations for sexuality and gender identity are reported every few years in scientific journals. Before the gay gene there was the gay brain. The transsexual gene made an appearance in 2008. However, the gay gene studies were never replicated. Replication is necessary in the sciences for an experimental result to be transformed into reliable science. Not only did replication fail to occur but other research found contradictary results. We are no closer to an actual gay gene now than we were before the claim of its discovery in the 1990s.

The first gay gene reporting happened in the context of the Human Genome Project (a15-year big science project that mapped the human genome). It was a really exciting time in genetics and news stories about genes saturated the news during the late 1980s and 1990s. Many of the results that came out of this were both robust and exciting. Not so the gay gene. Although news of this came at the same time as the map it wasn’t actually connected.  It drew on the buzz of gene stories that were in vogue at the time but it wasn’t part of same bigger picture.

Gay gene stories in the UK press in the 1990s were quite critical and well informed. The press had a close relationship with scientists and people in the LGBT community. They had developed a relationship, partly because of working together in relation to the AIDs crisis.  One academic – Professor Jenny Kitzinger – at Cardiff University argues that this explains why gay gene news was so well informed and why the experts cited in stories in the 1990s were not only scientists but also LGBT spokespersons. Science stories usually give prominence to scientific experts so this was quite unusual.

Unfortunately, it seems like things have changed. News stories about sexuality and genetics, and other biomedical stories, are much less critical today.  Journalists writing on these topics seem more likely to accept genetic explanations and are less likely to be informed by LGBT commentary. The gay gene now appears as an origin story, used to give a quick history of research in science stories, but not questioned.  It is unsurprising then that the reception of biomedical sexuality research has shifted from approval to anger. In an area charged with such high stakes we need a return to critical reporting.

The Brighton & Sussex Sexualities Network (BSSN) is an inter-university research network aimed at supporting research and researchers who work on issues of human sexuality within the Universities of Brighton and Sussex and the wider Sussex area. We consist of community members and academics who have an interest in knowing about current sexualities research. We have an organising committee, which is open to all, and which meets about twice a year. A sub-committee organises our annual conference. Anyone can come to these meetings to suggest and organise events.