As an emerging novel technology, synthetic biology (synbio) takes an engineering approach to biology by editing DNA. Synbio applications may offer creative approaches to existing environmental challenges such as invasive species management or making native species more resilient to a warming climate. But what happens when a multi-species lens is applied to synbio? What we can learn from Indigenous Australian ontologies that see plant and animal species not as separate to, but rather an extension of, human kin? How might cuts and changes in DNA be perceived in Indigenous Australian understandings of continuity, kin and care? This paper will explore how synbio techniques that alter nature might challenge, change or bolster Indigenous Australian multi-species relations and identity, and conversely how these concepts of kin may challenge existing synbio assumptions to reshape ethical and regulatory responsibilities for the future.

About the Presenter

Kirsty Wissing considers Indigenous and customary values of and relationships to the environment within and beyond Australia.  She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow (Social Science) in CSIRO's Maximising Impact Application Domain as part of the organisation's Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform. Trained as an anthropologist, Kirsty's postdoctoral project considers Indigenous Australian biocultural knowledge and values in synthetic biology, an emerging technology that takes an engineering approach to DNA with environmental, health and other potential applications.  Kirsty was awarded a PhD (Anthropology) at the Australian National University in July 2021. Based on fieldwork in Ghana, her PhD sought to bring local Akwamu values into dialogue with larger national issues of water resource responsibility and physical and socio-political production as framed in ideas of purity and morality. Prior to her PhD, Kirsty worked with Australian Indigenous communities under Native Title and Aboriginal Land Rights legislation for the Central Land Council (the Northern Territory) and Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (Western Australia). She has also conducted research into and managed programs about the petroleum, mining and energy industries in Ghana for the Africa Centre for Energy Policy. 

About Anthropology Working Papers

The Working Papers in Anthropology seminar series provides a forum for dissemination of anthropological research and ideas among UQ scholars and invited researchers. All students are invited to attend the series and postgraduate students, from honours upwards, are invited to present their research. The aim is to provide opportunities for students, staff and those from outside UQ, to present and discuss their work in an informal environment.


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