Alter Nature: Designing Nature – Designing Human Life – Owning Life

Alter Nature: Designing Nature – Designing Human Life – Owning Life

"If you change a living organism's properties, you could also change its interactions with the environment or the human body." (The Guardian)

Recent developments in bioscience and technology announce a biological revolution. This revolution would succeed the digital one and would make the latter look like childsplay. However, regardless of whether these announcements with regards to the biological revolution are merely to be understood as discourse or not, developments that pertain to the altering, manipulating and designing of nature raise questions. What could these new technologies imply? What might the impact of existing technologies when applied to different fields mean? These questions are raised in science, but also in business, policy, art and design.

Z33 – house for contemporary art in Hasselt, VIB, Hasselt University and LifeTechLimburg have joined forces for the first time in the organization of the symposium titled Alter Nature: Designing Nature – Designing Human Life – Owning Life. 15 international speakers will join the debate in three different sessions about the ability to design nature, the ability to design human life and questions of ownership. Every session consists of a keynote, followed by three short presentations and a moderated Q & A. The symposium will be conducted in English.


Z33, VIB, UHasselt and LifeTechLimburg wish to invite every scientist, artist, policymaker and collaborator, student or interested party to this symposium.

Friday 18 February 2011 – 9 am - 7.30 pm
UHasselt – Agoralaan Diepenbeek, Gebouw D (aula H6) map

Registration via via Registrations are closed.
Free entrance, registration required.

Alter Nature: Designing Nature – Designing Human Life – Owning Life is part of Alter Nature, an overarching project by Z33, the Hasselt Fashion Museum and CIAP in collaboration with the MAD-faculty, the University of Hasselt, the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), KULeuven University and bioSCENTer.



9h00  Coffee and tea

9h30 Welcome

9h50 – 10h15 Introduction
Introductie door Prof. Dr. Robert Zwijnenberg (Universiteit Leiden, directeur Arts and Genomics Center, NL)

10h15 – 12h00  Session 1: Designing Nature

The first session will look at the ability to design nature. Evolutions in bioscience and technology highlight again the ever growing toolset humans can use to alter nature. Synthetic biology implies a shift from manipulating to designing nature, from the biologist towards the engineer. This involves direct links with the practice of artists and designers.
The emergence of a relatively young research area implies a new challenge for our concept of nature. Key questions for this panel are: what is a designable nature? Do we want a new nature? What ‘kind’ of new nature do we want?

Keynote: Ignace Schops (International ambassador of Biodiversity– European Parliament, B)

4 speakers:
Prof. Dr. Ann Cuypers (UHasselt, B)
Adam Zaretsky (artist, US)
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg (critical designer and project coordinator Synthetic Aesthetics, UK)
Huib de Vriend (consultant Life sciences, Innovation and Society, LIS Consult, NL)

Moderator: Dr. Peter Raeymaekers (science journalist, B)

12h00 – 13h00  Lunch

13h00 – 14h30 Session 2: Designing Human Life

The second session deals with the malleability of human life. The many alterations that humans impose on their surrounding nature plays into the belief that humans are not a part of this. However, human life is also nature. How do humans impact their own nature and what does this mean? Which alterations are allowed for? When do we talk about curing and when do we talk about enhancement?
Key questions for this panel: what is a design-able human? What is a new human? What kind of new human do we want? Which conceptual changes do the technological possibilities imply?

Keynote: Prof. Dr. Catherine Verfaillie (KULeuven, B)

3 speakers:
Koen Vanmechelen (artist, B)
Dr. Ir. Rinie van Est (coordinator technology assessment, Rathenau Instituut – Making perfect life, NL)
Dr. Frank Luyten (UZ Leuven, B)

Moderator: Dr. Peter Raeymaekers (science journalist, B)

14h30 – 15h00  Coffee break

15h00 – 16h30  Session 3: Owning Life

Changes in bioscience and technology are not presented in a vacuum, but in a society with political, social and economic interests. How are these developments in bioscience and technology framed. More concrete, what is the status of the current procedures with regards to patents and copyright? Can we apply the existing ones? What does this mean for the ‘value’ of nature and/or scientific discovery?
Key questions: what is it about? Where are we in Belgium? What are relevant models from the Netherlands, UK, US? How must Europe move forward with this?

Keynote: J. Paul Neeley (multidisciplinary designer and researcher, UK)

3 speakers:
Dr. Philippe Jacobs (European Patent Attorney of Tech Transfer UGent, B)
Dr. Berthold Rutz (European Patent Office Munich, D) – to be confirmed
Wauthier Robyns (manager Assuralia, B)

Moderator: Dr. Peter Raeymaekers (science journalist, B)

16u30 – 17u00 Closing words

Closing words by Vice Minister-President of the Flemish Government and the Flemish Minister of Innovation, Government investments, Media and Poverty reduction Ingrid Lieten.

17h00 – 18h00  Reception

18h30 – 19h30  Guided Tour Z33 – Alter Nature: We Can

19h30 …  Dinner for speakers


Prof. Dr. Robert Zwijnenberg
Robert Zwijnenberg is a professor in Humanities, at the University of Leiden (NL). In his research he focuses on contemporary art and aesthetic theories. He is also the director of The Arts and Genomics Center, based at the Faculty of Science, Leiden Institute of Chemistry, Gorlaeus Laboratories. The Center creates a platform for international artists, scientific researchers and professionals from business and government organizations aiming to stimulate, initiate and supervise meetings, discussions, collaborations and exchanges. The Arts & Genomics Centre aims to describe and analyze the unique role that the visual arts can have in the critical evaluation and dissemination of the results of genomics research.

Ignace Schops
Ignace Schops is a landscaping expert and herpetologist and the director of the Regional Landscape Kempen and Maasland. In  2009 he was appointed International Ambassador of Biodiversity and member of the International Advisory Board for Countdown 2010, an initiative of the International Union for Nature Conservation. Besides being the vice-president of Natuurpunt Vlaanderen and secretary of the board of Natuurpunt Limburg, he’s an author and frequent international keynote speaker on herpetology, nature conservation and landscaping. In 2008, Schops won the ‘Goldman Environmental Prize’, the Green Nobel Prize for Nature conservation.

Prof. Dr. Ann Cuypers
Ann Cuypers almost became a medical doctor but fell in love with biology and physics during the first year of university. She switched to a bachelor Education in Biology. Her interest in biological research triggered her to pursue a PhD degree at Hasselt University after her master program. At the moment she is a professor at the biology department of Hasselt University where she wants to take fundamental biology research to a higher level as well as to make it a useful tool in our modern society. She aims at realizing this within the “Centrum voor Milieukunde” (CMK), a research institute at Hasselt University. Her research domain is focused on disturbed molecular mechanisms within plants which are subject to stress caused by heavy metals.

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg is a British designer and artist who studied Design Interaction at the Royal College of Art. She is currently the Design Fellow for the ‘Synthetic Aesthetics’ project at Stanford and Edinburgh Universities, curating  artists, designers and synthetic biologists exploring existing and potential collaborations between biology and the creative arts. Her work, which can be located in the field of design and the biotech revolution, is inspired by the implications of innovative and emerging technologies for society.

Adam Zaretsky
Adam Zaretsky is an American artist who works with biology, performance and research. He is fascinated by living systems, the exploration of life’s mysteries, and life itself. He also focuses on the legal, ethical and social implications of biotechnological materials and methods. Zaretsky may be described as an artist provocateur, given his very explicit way of raising pertinent issues through his work.

Huib de Vriend
Huib de Vriend is the founder of the one-man organization LIS Consult. De Vriend studied at the University of Agriculture in Wageningen (NL) and has been involved in the international public debate on biotechnology. LIS Consult supports and advices governments, companies, research institutes and public organizations about the developments in the Life sciences, their societal aspects and their role in the innovation processs. LIS stands for Life sciences, Innovation and Society.
Detailed CV (Dutch only) on (pdf)

Prof. Dr. Catherine Verfaillie
Catherine Verfaillie is trained as an MD, hematologist at the KULeuven, and went to the University of Minnesota in 1987 for a postdoctoral fellowship, where she became a full Professor of Medicine in 1998 and became the first Director of the University of Minnesota’s Stem Cell Institute in 1999. In 2006 she accepted to become the director of the Interdepartmental Stem Cell Institute at the KULeuven. She has a longstanding career in stem cell biology, initially focusing on normal hematopoietic stem cells and leukemic stem cells. Since 2000 she has also focused extensively on more pluripotent stem cells, when she described stem cells from postnatal origin with greater potency, named multipotent adult progenitor cells or MAPC. The interest of the Verfaillie lab in Leuven is currently focused on understanding what regulates selfrenewal and differentiation of hematopoietic and adult as well as embryonic pluripotent stem cell, and testing the possible use of stem cell based and stem cell derived therapies in animal models of hematopoietic, vascular, liver and metabolic (diabetes) disorders.

Koen Vanmechelen
Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen makes iconoclastic sculpture, paintings, glasswork and installations. His daring expeditions into contemporary science, philosophy and ethics have resulted into several internationally acclaimed projects. Most known is The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (TCCP), a vast attempt to create and manipulate scores of chicken breeds from whole over the world into a new species, a universal chicken or Superbastard. Four subprojects constitute the TCCP:Virtual crossing,Experimental crossing, The Walking Egg and The Accident, Chronicles of The Cosmopolitan Chicken.

Dr. Ir. Rinie van Est
Rinie van Est joined the Rathenau Institute in August 1997. He is responsible for identifying new developments at the convergence of science, technology, politics and society, with a particular focus on the emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science. The combination of these disciplines, known as the 'NBIC convergence', is likely to bring about a new technological 'wave', reshaping our future with major developments such as synthetic biology, Ambient Intelligence and virtual worlds. Rinie van Est was involved in many Rathenau publications, one of the most recent ones being ‘Making Perfect Life. Bio-engineering in the 21st Century.’

Prof. Dr. Frank Luyten
Frank P. Luyten, MD, PhD and co-founder of Tigenix is amongst other things board certified Rheumatologist, tenured full Professor and Head of the Division of Rheumatology at the University Hospital in Leuven, and director of the Laboratory for Skeletal Development and Joint Disorders at the KULeuven. He obtained his MD, PhD degree and Board Certification in Rfranheumatology at the University of Ghent, Belgium. Afterwards, he performed a postdoctoral training at the National Institute of Dental Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda (US). He became subsequently group leader of the Developmental Biology Unit at the Bone Research Branch, NIDR, NIH, Bethesda (US). Two important contributions to his scientific achievements are the discovery of Osteogenin and Cartilage Derived Morphogenetic Proteins. His expertise in regenerative medicine is further supported by contributions in the field of cellular therapeutics, cartilage/joint surface repair and the discovery of adult stem cells in synovial tissue. He serves as advisor and board member of other biotech companies in the field of Regenerative Medicine.

J. Paul Neeley
J. Paul Neeley is a multidisciplinary designer/researcher currently working as a Senior Creative/Design Consultant at Gaia Corporation in London. At Gaia Corporation J. Paul leads the organization's Global Products Practice, helping companies understand, design, and realize new product opportunities through synthetic biology. He has a background in design research, brand & design strategy, business design, and service & experience design. Before coming to Gaia Corporation, J. Paul worked professionally at Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation//SPARC as a designer/researcher focusing on the healthcare experience and delivery, at Teton Radiology/Medical Imaging Associates as service design manager realizing innovative medical imaging solutions, and at Unilever in Consumer & Market Insights on leading CPG brands. His past design work has explored the human implications of emerging technologies, designing futures that help us understand and engage with possibilities. He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he studied Communications Studies, Economics, and Cello Performance, and holds an MA in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Art.

Dr. Philippe Jacobs
Dr. Philippe Jacobs is the in-house European Patent Attorney of Tech Transfer UGent since May 2010. In addition, he lectures at the University of Antwerp (UA). Prior to joining UGent he was director within the IP firm ‘De Clercq & Partners’ and was a patent attorney within the tech transfer team of the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB). Prior to joining VIB, he was a patent counsel in the intellectual property department of Innogenetics, a Belgian biotech company active in healthcare. Dr. Jacobs holds a PhD in Immunology from McGill University, Canada. In addition, Dr. Jacobs has 4 years teaching experience in Rwanda and also holds a diploma in Tropical Medical Biology from the Institute for Tropical Medicine of Antwerp, a Masters of Science degree in biological control from McGill University and a licentiate degree in botany from UGent.

Dr. Berthold Rutz
Berthold Rutz is a patent examiner at the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich entrusted with search, examination and opposition in the field of biotechnology. He holds a PhD in biochemistry from the Freie Universität Berlin.

Wauthier Robyns
Wauthier Robyns started law studies in 1979 at the University of Brussels. Between 2006 and 2010 he was a member of the European Economic and Social Committee and served as a reporter on collective redress in case of competition law infringements, solvency requirements of insurance companies, VAT on banking and insurance services, the powers of EU financial supervision agencies, and the relationships between insurance companies and car repair shops. At the moment he is a manager at Assuralia, a well known and manifested insurance company. The consequences of genetic manipulation and subsequent role of assurance policies are his domains of interest.

Dr. Peter Raeymaekers
Peter Raeymaekers obtained a PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Antwerp. During 15 years he had the privilege to perform research in the molecular domains of biomedical sciences. Currently, he has taken some distance from the research area and has become a freelance writer and journalist in science. In this way he can chase the newest evolutions in a broader field and explain this to our current society. His passion and fascination for the biochemistry of life plays an important role in all this. The passion for life sciences started during his college years, when he studied biochemistry. One of his famous lines is: “Once you are infected with the virus of science, you ‘ll stay infected the rest of your life, so be warned!”


Alter Nature: Symposium


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