The advance of biological engineering allows scientists to manipulate genes and modify the very nature of certain organisms. Some of these applications have the potential to change the way we relate to the microscopic elements such as viruses. Viruses appear to be nasties whose sole purpose is to infect and make our lives miserable. However, certain viruses can make us stronger.
Chickenpox, for example, holds a choice or a strong division of opinions. Some people believe that natural immunity can be a better defence than a medical vaccine. So catching the virus could become a deliberate act of invoking your own immune system’s protection.
In a project titled “Viruses, close enemies or distant cousins?” and shown at the Design Interactions Work in Progress Show, Mikael Metthey has tried to explore the social consequences of a shift in the perceptions and the applications of viruses.
In the same way as some parents would feed their kids with organic food, they might want them to be infected by chickenpox in a carefully controlled way. Mikael’s scenario envisions how it could go.
A laboratory he calls Varilab would manipulate the chickenpox virus so that it would be less aggressive to the human body. It would then be made available to parents who belive that natural immunity is best for their child. The viruses would be stored and labelled according to their age and concentration. They would also be designed not to survive beyond ten minutes to avoid any uncontrolled pandemics. The virus would then be kept inside pressurised capsules, and the parents would release it to infect a toy (the lovely Pox Teddy), the child would thus play and get a mild infection that ensure that he or she doesn’t catch chickenpox in adulthood (which can be pretty annoying as some my testify ;-)
Mikael’s presentation featured a few more interesting questions such as How might we interact with viruses in the future?; How shall we consume them? Could you imagine that one day you’d keep every virus you’ve ever had in your life as memories? Or display them as a demonstration of your social status?