Gaymon Bennett (Senior Research Fellow)
Ph.D. UC Berkeley (Anthropology)
Ph.D. Graduate Theological Union (Theology)
Anthropology of Biology and Religion
Science and Political Theology
Biopower and Human Dignity
Gaymon co-founded and helps steer the Center for Biological Futures. He has conducted intensive experiments in how to design practices and venues needed for facilitating effectual inquiry into and engagement with contemporary biology. He is a Principal of the Anthropological Research on the Contemporary and a founding co-designer of the Human Practices experiment at the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), a joint project of Berkeley, MIT, Harvard, UCSF, and Stanford. He led Human Practices at the International Open Facility Advancing Biotechnology (BIOFAB) at LBNL and UC Berkeley, and was a research fellow of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. His design work emphasizes collaborative and multi-sited empirical inquiry, a shift of emphasis from theory to disciplined concept work, and sustained attention to the micro-politics of knowledge production.
His current research examines contemporary efforts to constitute biology as a salvational practice: i.e. as capable of saving lives, economies, and environments. Classically, the question of salvation was a philosophical and theological one: soteriology, reasoned discourse about soteria, “the good,” and what could be done to achieve it. With the project of liberal modernity, this classical question, taken in its public, material, and empiric dimensions, has often been given over to science and capital, while those dimensions thought to be private, non-material, and subjective have been relegated to religion and ethics. Attentive to the institutional and epistemic forces which have produced this situation, my work takes up the challenge of rethinking relations between knowledge, thought, and care, and the shifting power relations which given them form.
Gaymon currently directs a Sloan Foundation funded project on synthetic biology and religion. The project explores the perceptions, reactions and understanding (or lack thereof) of religious communities with regard to critical developments in advanced genetic engineering, with special focus on biofuels, global public health, and engineering life. It poses questions concerning: the interplay of science and religious politics; the constitution of scientific and religious authorities; notions of scientific and religious hope; science and the constitution of the secular; religious modernity; discourses of justice, freedom, and enrichment in science; and the limits of critique.
Gaymon is also currently involved in collaborative efforts to understand how the ethos of infectious disease research affects the ways in which questions of biosecurity and public health are posed and counter-posed. A primary focus of this collaboration is the engineering of new deadly viruses and the roles of knowledge, power, and the moral imagination.
A third project, under development with CBF colleagues, investigates the development and use of metrics in secular and religious global health as simultaneously a matter of technical, economic, ethical and political practice.
Background and Additional Research Interests
My ongoing work draws on the resources of critical anthropology, especially the “anthropology of the contemporary,” as well as philosophical and theological social theory, to make sense of the increasingly ubiquitous place of ethics in the development and expansion of biotechnology. I have conducted projects on the emergence and political ramifications of regenerative medicine, and the invention and rise to global prominence of synthetic biology. I am currently interested in efforts on the part of several prominent bioengineers, with public and private backers, to push beyond the conceptual and rhetorical limits of synthetic biology toward “advanced genomic editing”—a push which, quite unexpectedly, is serving to reconnect and reconfigure the moral economies of global health, environmental justice, and national security, as well as ethical subject positions therein. Staying close to the situated experiences of actors in multiple field-sites—from biotech corporations, to transnational research partnerships, to secular and religious direct-action groups—I seek to understand the dominant rationalities through which the ethics of scientific practice are partially determined as well as the poetics of self-formation by which individuals find embodied means of circumventing those rationalities, thereby unsettling existing logics of life, power, and worth.
Roger Brent (Director)
Phone: (206) 667-1482
Roger co-founded and directs the Center for Biological Futures. Roger was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1955. He received a BA in Computer Science and Mathematics from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1973, where he did some work attempting to apply AI techniques to protein folding. He went on to get a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Harvard University in 1982 for studies with Mark Ptashne. As a graduate student, he showed that the E. coli lexA gene repressed genes involved in the response to radiation damage, cloned the gene, produced and purified its protein product using and in some cases extending the newly developed recombinant DNA methods, and studied binding of the repressor to its operators, showing that its differential binding affinity for these sites affected the timing of the response. As a postdoctoral fellow, also with Mark Ptashne, he tested a number of ideas about the mechanism of transcription regulation in yeast by using the prokaryotic LexA protein and in subsequent experiments creating chimeric proteins that carried LexA fused to activators native to yeast. These "domain swap" experiments established the modular nature of eukaryotic transcription regulators.
In 1985, Roger became a Professor at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School Department of Genetics. He and his coworkers used yeast transcription that depended on chimeric DNA bound proteins as a genetic probe for protein function in higher organisms. This work led to the development of working two-hybrid methods (1988-1993), to the ability to scale them up via interaction mating (1992-1994), and to the eventual development of protein interaction methods as a useful way to learn more about biological function. In parallel, Roger and his coworkers developed peptide aptamers as reverse "genetic" agents to study the function of proteins and allelic protein variants (1999-2001), and, more recently, as dominant forward "genetic" reagents to identify genes and pathway linkages in organisms, such as human cells, that are intractable to classical genetic analysis. (Perhaps as important as the actual technologies is the coeval development of ideology (e.g. doctrine) for using them.) This work is described in about 80 research papers and reviews.
In parallel to his academic work, Roger is a longtime (since 1984) advisor to the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. He served on the SAB of American Home Products (Genetics Institute/Wyeth Ayerst Research), chairs scientific advisory boards for several smaller companies, and does significant ad hoc consulting work in genomics and computational biology. He is one of the founders (1987-2001) of Current Protocols, including Current Protocols in Molecular Biology, a "how to clone it" manual, which is updated every three months and has about 10,000 subscribing labs. He is founder and organizer (since 1994) of the "After the Genome" workshops. He is an inventor on 11 issued and several pending US Patents. Since the middle 1990s, he has exhorted and advised various bodies in the US and abroad on functional genomics and computational biology, including the National Institutes of Health, the Welcome Trust, the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and other parts of the US Defense Department.
Roger joined the Molecular Sciences Institute in 1998 as Associate Director. He was named Director in 2000 and President and CEO in 2001. Brent joined the faculty of UCSF Department of Biopharmaceutical Sciences as an Adjunct Professor in 2000 and was named a Senior Scholar of the Ellison Medical Foundation in 2001.
In July 2009, Roger joined Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as a Full Member in the Basic Sciences Division.
Meg Stalcup (Senior Research Fellow)
Phone: (206) 667-7158
Meg Stalcup co-founded and helps steer the Center for Biological Futures. She received her PhD from the Joint Program in Medical Anthropology at UC Berkeley and San Francisco. Meg's work, in biology, science communication and anthropology, has consistently bridged disciplines, and she is actively engaged in developing forms and practices of collaboration.
Meg has designed and executed several independent multi-year studies. Each drew on and developed methodology in the interpretive human sciences. Her masters thesis described the ethnobotany of plants used medicinally and ritually, obtained from an urban market in Rio de Janeiro. Her doctoral research involved over four years of fieldwork on the politics of security in the United States and at Interpol, in France. Subsequently, she engaged in a year-long collaborative follow-up investigation into counterterrorism training for state and local law enforcement in the United States. Her work generally utilizes qualitative interviews with stakeholders, detailed description (from people to funding sources, governance and regulatory structures, and the pertinent legal apparatus), and concept work requiring historical contextualization and adaptation of concepts from philosophy.
Meg continues her work in security, and is also currently working on several projects in global health that aim to provide insight into how metrics function both as forms of knowledge production and governance. She is especially interested in approaches to the persistent quandary of how to best allocate financial and human resources in health systems, specifically in terms of delivering basic interventions.
Meg previously obtained a BS in Biology from UC San Diego and an MS in Biological Sciences from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. She completed the UC Santa Cruz program in Science Communication in 2001, and has produced illustrations for the California Academy of Sciences, the American Museum of Natural History, McGraw-Hill, Anthropology Today, and the UC Berkeley Graphics Department, among others. She has received fellowships from the Brazilian National Research Council (CNPq), the IGCC Public Policy and Biological Threats Training Program, the UCHRI Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory, UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, and the US National Science Foundation.
Desmond Huynh (Intern)
Phone: (206) 679-5178
Desmond joined the Center for Biological Futures as an intern during the Spring of 2012. He is pursuing undergraduate degrees in Neurobiology and Comparative History of Ideas at the University of Washington. Desmond's philosophical interests are in phenomenology and philosophy of science.
In addition to his work at the Center for Biological Futures he is an undergraduate researcher with the Chiu group at the University of Washington where his laboratory background is in developing microfluidic techniques for analytical biology. At the Center for Biological Futures Desmond focuses on the Center's research project on biosecurity and the H5N1 publication debate.
Katie Ulrich (Intern)
Phone: (425) 765-7438
Kate joined the Center for Biological Futures as an intern during the Summer of 2012. She attends Haverford College near Philadelphia and is majoring in biology and anthropology. She grew up in Sammamish, WA and has worked at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for the past three summers in the Stoddard and Hahn labs. Her interests include medical anthropology and anthropology of science. Her work at the Center for Biological Futures is in researching synthetic biology and bio-fuels.