Paul Vanouse’s residency project The People’s PCR help to democratize high end genetic engineering tools. According to Vanouse’s essay about the first time he did this project in Banff, Deep Woods PCR, the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) “is an elegant algorithmic process that allowed Kary Mullis to copy a small region of DNA billions of times, thereby ‘amplifying’ a region, potentially to differentiate individuals. The first great patent of the biotechnological revolution profited Cetus and Roche corporations with the first billion dollar invention. For his discovery, Mullis, along with Michael Smith, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993.”
Paul has devised a way to perform one of the key processes in PCR over a campfire with simple equipment. More details on the Deep Woods link above. What is fascinating to me is Paul’s description of the history and importance of Thermus Acquaticus as an organism that can survive high temperatures and therefore remain living through the PCR process. As far as I can understand, the genes of this organism can be combined with other organisms therefor allowing the PCR process to be used with a variety of living DNA. As you can imagine, this makes Thermus Acquaticus a very valuable species to those that profit from the biotech industry!
Paul collaborated with visual artist and Buffalo prof Joan Linder, who created an exquisitely drawn book of the process including trip to three hot springs with their two young sons Lucien and Raphael. Raf even presented his own drawings of the experience!
These two residencies were part of the Neo Rio festival created by Clare Cote and Jon Wenger. The Wild Rivers park where the festival is held is part of BLM land, and thaks to the hard work of Clare and Jon, Paul and Joan’s residency is one of the first BLM hosted residencies ever! They even lived in an apartment on site.
After the presentation/performance of People’s PCR, Clare and Jon hosted a dinner and breakfast at a Wild Rivers campground in Questa. I got a chance to stay the night in the ‘weasel’, Jon’s wild studio bus that travels into the deep wilds for many weeks at a time with artists to develop work. His wild studio projects started at UNM and were the beginning of the tradition we try to continue with the Art and Ecology program.