Manipulating and collecting living organisms is not in itself a recent, innovative activity. It would be possible to find occurrences of these various practices over several centuries (Schnapper, 1988; Tassy, 1991; Chauvet, Oliver, 1993; Bowker, 2000). Nevertheless the development of biotechnologies has introduced a major change concerning the ability we have to conserve and intervene on living matter. From a functional point of view, living organisms are now apprehended has being composed of a number of entities that are modifiable (e.g. recombining genotypes), can be reproduced (e.g. genic amplification techniques like PCRs - Polymerase Chain Reaction), and can be stored (e.g. Cryoconservation). These entities can also be the support of varied practices, be it in the medical field, research field, industrial field or political field (Morange, 1994; Gaudillière, 2002; Atkinson et al., 2009). Whether they are of plant, animal, or human origin, these entities have become potentially exploitable biological resources (as was encouraged by the U. N. Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992)
The Convention (CBD) defines biological resources as...
. The growing number of contracts concerning ‘the living’ illustrates this point, as does the notion of ‘biological resource’ commonly used in international research consortiums, in treaties between states, in hospitals, and even concerning cultivated land and environmental issues.
It has to be said that the development of molecular biology, of bio-computering and the genome sequencing of more and more living organisms, as well as the growing awareness of the loss of biodiversity on our planet, all take part in this movement. Furthermore a crucial aspect in the uses of the notion of ‘living organism’ is that it is not centred on a particular category, plant, animal or human life but points to their common denominator: life. One of the goals of this issue dealing with biological resources is to document the growing power (of humans) over the living, this bio-power that Foucault evoked to study « the manner in which power and knowledge take into account the processes of life and undertake to control and modify them” (Foucault, 1976, p. 187).
As a matter of fact, beyond the different categories of living entities, practices consisting in placing the living on a scale of value and usefulness have multiplied of the last few decades. The development of protected natural areas, bioethical laws, the collection of biological samples managed by biobanks, or animal selection based on genotypic criteria, are all examples of this trend. As the issues around biological resources are rising to the forefront in international political agendas, they are concomitantly occupying a place of importance in research agendas in the field of social sciences. However, studies on the living are mostly concerned with one of the three categories. This categorisation may be meaningful with regard to the specific issues and distinct practices in each field but it remains interesting to adopt a transversal position and track down the issues that concern all three life forms. This is the view point that has guided the content of this report on biological resources and directed this introductory text.
To put into light its heuristic, I will first look at the transversal issues relating to knowledge around biological resources. In the following section I will trace the history of the notion of biological resources. Then I will examine the specific practices in use in the different fields, linking in the data given by the other articles in this issue. To conclude I will give an overview of the issues concerning regulation that concern all the uses of biological resources.
THE GENEALOGY OF BIOLOGICAL RESOURCES
The first expressions of political concern about the environment can be found at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Without going into the details of this history
See the work of the French association for the history...
, it is interesting to note the semantic evolutions from “nature” to “biodiversity” (passing through “sustainable development”, “natural”, and then “living resources”). 1923 is an important date: that year, the first International Congress for the Protection of Nature was held in Paris at the Natural History Museum. On the 1st of June, L Mangin, the director of the museum presiding at the congress, pronounced a speech that was remarkable in more than one way. Here we will retain only one aspect: it was a stirring call for the protection of nature, for aesthetic and practical purposes
“We also wish to denounce and put a stop to the desastrous...
. However it is only later that a utilitarian vision of nature will truly emerge.
In effect, it is 25 years later, in 1948 that the International Union for the Protection of nature (IUPN) was created. The founding text of this organisation states in it’s introduction that “the statement ‘protection of nature’ can be considered as englobing the safegarding of the living world, man’s natural habitat. This entity includes the natural renewable resources of the earth, a primary factor for every civilisation”
For excerpts of this speach and an analysis, see the...
. Even if the term “nature” is used, the term “resource” is upheld and will become more and more central, overtaking the first. There are political reasons to this: the General Secretary of the IUPN, as of 1949, realised that the mobilisation around the protection of nature was insufficient. He therefore decided to redirect his arguments towards “anthropocentric utilitarianism” (Harroy, 1949)
Development that is visible in the name of the organisation...
, dropping moral and aesthetic considerations. It is from here that the concept of sustainable development grows with the objective of conciliating economic development and the protection of the natural world. In this movement, the use of the term “nature” is progressively replaced by that of “living resources”, leading to “biological diversity” or “biodiversity” in the 1980’s, with founding works such as those written by Wilson and Peter (1988) and Wilson (1992).
This semantic shift suggests that the term “biodiversity” has replaced “nature” because of its greater attractiveness, mobilising capacity and flexibility
In this sense biodiversity could be apprehended as...
. The notion of “resource” allows nature to be apprehended, no longer as a monolithic bloc, a global and globalising entity, but as quite the opposite. Composed of a multitude of elements (resources), nature can be taken into account according to managerial criteria. The issue is to manage nature or the natural capital within an economic system where nature is instrumentalised in the form of resources. Biological diversity can therefore be apprehended through it’s functional, ecological or genetic aspects. In this way the 20th century moves from the “protection of nature to the piloting of biodiversity” to use the title of P. Blandin’s book (2009) that highlights the terms and stakes of this transition.
The point of this quick overview is to offer the opportunity of recalling Wittgentstein’s teaching: to be fully conveyed, language must be replaced within the practice where it occurs. Retracing the genealogy of the term “biodiversity”, even in rapid strokes, highlights it’s anthropocentric roots (nature has meaning only in regard to a humans point of view) and utilitarian background (the only interesting elements are what is potentially useful). This rhetoric, and the practices linked to it must be placed in the successive historical configurations. Through these, a static concept of “nature in equilibrium” (wild and unsullied by man) has been replaced by the concept of “co-changing” (between living and non-living but also between different species), more dynamic (Blondel, 1995).
And now we shall turn to the historical point of view of, Christophe Bonneuil et Marianna Fenzi, dedicated to the study of genetic resources within the economy of practices, where they are conditioned and used. Their article offers a “historicization” of plant life biological resources and of their uses through the governing frames and the framings of the problems. The authors concludes upon the contemporary period, which they consider to be marked by a “shifting in the governing of living entities”: from “genetic resources” to “cultivated biodiversity”.
Empirical exploration of what is done today with biological resources is the theme of the four other articles that make up this issue. Each in its way tackles the question of access to the spaces where such resources dwell, and the practices of socialisation and regulation by which the resources are associated with the world we have in common.
ACCESSING RESOURCES, REGULATING THEIR USE
Collecting biological resources or producing information about them, supposes, of course, that one has access to them. However the spaces where the resources dwell are not homogeneous and contribute to the differentiation of the conditions of access. It is the case of the Amazonian rainforest and the rich Mexican environment. The two situations are under comparative analysis in the article by Gérard Filoche and Jean Foyer. The spaces in question are unique (and circumscribed within the borders of a state). The terms and conditions of access and appropriation are the object of state-to-state negotiations within the framework defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The authors judiciously point out that the Convention reduces biological resources twice, firstly by qualifying them as genetic resources(“we are therefore confronted with a reduction of the diversity of life to it’s fundamental unit, the gene”), secondly by reducing the diversity to it’s material ontology and, in fine, to it’s instrumental potential (resources), particularly in a economical perspective.
The authors go on to analyse the progressive implementation of the legal framework of the Convention. It is born of a compromise between supplier and user countries: the states that have genetic resources exchange them against financial and technological advantages supplied by the countries that can exploit and promote the resources. In return this should finance conservation. But the bioprospecting contracts -the implementing of which is considered by Filoche and Foyer to be the chance for genetic resources to be politically put to the test- are shifting from their original goal (as a instrument promoting biodiversity) towards more “economical uses” (like the promotion of the environmental services in Brazil) or political ones (debates on GMO and biosecurity in Brazil).
It becomes apparent that, according to the authors, the category of genetic resources that is supposed to regulate bioprospection activities “is very little operative”. However one has to keep in mind that this has sparked further economicisation of nature. Attributing ownership rights on genetic resources to suppliers countries, leads to a change in the exchange systems whereabouts free access in reference to the notion of a common world patrimony is no longer possible. Access is now controlled within the framework of a goods and services market, in relation with the term “biodiversity” (from the CBD held in 1992 up to Nagoya in 2010). To summarize the situation, at present, the erosion of biodiversity has been slightly held back by the Convention and its successors (this being one of the fundamental issues at stake), and the “developing countries’“ assertion of sovereignty over their natural resources has not induced new well-balanced relationships between the north and south (Thomas, 2006; Revue Tiers-Monde, 2010). More fundamentally, the critical political issue of instituting biological diversity as public property (Callon, 1994) without excluding private uses, remains outstanding, despite the frame the Convention has given both to the development of biotechnologies and to the exploitation of genetic resources (see Maljean-Dubois, 2005, for a legal analysis).
Access to biological resources is presented from a different angle in the text by Neil Stephens, Paul Atkinson and Peter Glasner, since it is a multitude of restricted spaces that are in question (or confined spaces as opposed to the outdoor spaces in the previous article), containing human cells : stem cell banks. The article is about the internationalisation of the economy concerning tissues and derived lines of embryo stem cells. “Characterizing cultural specificity of the practise of banking” with regard to the international standardization practices, is its object. If the main issue at stake is to connect stem cell banks by establishing an international network, it is to improve the therapeutic practices the banks and calls rely on. The authors analyse the devices implemented to harmonise the technical and ethical aspects of stem cell banking activities at an international level, and more precisely in the UK, in Spain and in India. The structuring of this exchange area raises not only issues about the stocking but also around trusting practice that is considered as a prerequisite to the organisation of cooperation in different forms. The real issue highlighted here is the “guarantee of the legitimacy of stem cells in social and scientific terms”, insofar as putting them on the market requires socialising and regulating these biological resources of human origin
On the organization of hematopoiëtic stem sell donations...
Here also is the political aspect of socialising and regulating these biological resources of human origin. The concern with trust, that the authors have studied, refers to the double (symmetrical) engagement of cells and tissues on one side and humans on the other. The technical dimensions (e.g. quality insurance, biosecurity) as well as bioethical dimensions (the cells must be legal and their availability “justified” on the ethical but also political level) are concerned. This, in practical terms, means that controversy is avoided, trust is built up, and the institutional practices become acceptable. Just so many aspects that can be applied to a far wider scope than embryo cells, concerning biobanks in general as spaces of intervention on the living (human) (Gottweiss, Petersen, 2008).
The use of stem cells to clinical ends not only contributes to the evolution of biomedical practices by multiplying the possibilities of intervention on the living. Given their strong connectivity and the growing space they take up in contemporary care and research they are also the main support of innovative medical practice. They give access to personalised medicine (like pharmaco-genomics and biotherapies), to predictive medicine (with the development of genetic tests and the storing of stem cells for later use), to regenerative medicine (cell and tissue regeneration). In this manner they participate in the reconfiguration of relationships between biomedical sciences, the medical body and the market (Dodier, 2003): this is already effective on the expanding market for stem cells (Waldby, Mitchell, 2006) and more generally that of biological resources too. ”The public health system” (Giacomini et al., 2007) and its capacity of regulation on the European level (Faulkner, 2009) is also already being put to the test.
The topic of the article by Céline Granjou and Isabelle Mauz is situated on an intermediate scale, more restricted than that of natural open spaces, and wider than that of a laboratory. It is a well delimited zone in the French Alps identified as a “workshop zone”. This kind of workshop is responsible, on a national level, for the collection of data on the modification of ecosystems linked to the evolutions of practice concerning the earth and climate, and as such, is instructive as to the terms of production of the environmental data and how they are accessed by various heterogeneous parties bearing differentiated expectations that must nevertheless be reconciled by forms of agreements. The text is about the essential task of data production (ecological, agronomic or climatic data) within contemporary ecology, and more precisely about the organisation of a research and management group, interacting on the scale of a “workshop zone”. The article shows how the scientists equip their work (of data production) by regulating the collaborations they entertain with other parties. Here the workshop zone itself is the common instrument of regulation: access to biological resources is given through the mediation of national public policy, giving workshops the status of big equipment( thereby being the instrument of public action). This forces scientists to compose with other parties involved in the systems/devices where (professional) recognition is at stake, founded on the circulation of data.
The new terms of collaboration and connection between parties, the assembling of subsequent data into databases and their growing use, all these elements contribute to redefining the layout of activities that constitute scientific work and it’s organisation (Hine, 2006). For using data relative to the environment, without having directly taken part in its development, has made unprecedented difficulties emerge, notwithstanding the relational aspects of trust. Problems that are due, in particular, to the variations of scale, that frequently appear in environmental sciences (Zimmerman, 2008). Further upstream, the constructing terms of public problems (e.g. local, environmental) also have their importance and as such should be taken into account since they participate in the setting of devices in which state and public parties interact around tangible objects of action, producing performative situated knowledge.
Lastly, the article by Julie Labatut, Franck Aggeri, Bernard Bibé and Nicole Girard is devoted to evolving terms of production of knowledge as applied to the management and selection of animal genetic resources used in agriculture. Along a time line, the authors study the transition from a local market organised around reproduces (animals) to a national, or international, market structured around semen and genetic services. By localizing more specifically on the case of ovine milk breeds from the eastern Pyrenees they illustrate how resorting to genetics (genomics, DNA chips, a “genetic index”) has mustered new forms of cooperation between farming professionals, public research and the state. The authors highlight the appearance, structuring and destabilisation of intensive selectivity with regard to the management of animal genetic resources in French farming. They do this by showing the succession of different schemes of selection that all aim to improve animal genetic resources. Through the different developments, a logic of (genetic) service has replaced a cooperative logic (largely due to genetic resources and their ever expanding role on the market) thereby destabilizing the intensive scheme in place and allowing competition between distinct schemes.
Instruments and resources linked to genetic genomics are central to this dynamic. They take part in the making of the sociotechnical artefacts that the ovine milk breeds are, and equip the goods and genetic services markets where different selection schemes cohabitate (with competitive or cooperative links).
But the issues at stake in these practices are much larger than the concerns to improve animal genetic resources in farming. The example of aquaculture is a show case: borders between farmed populations and wild populations are porous in that the environments they live in are not sealed off from each other. Some farmed animals are likely to find themselves in a wild environment and become the vectors introducing farms genes into wild populations. What will the ecological consequences of resulting hybrids be? What threat to biological diversity is this potential influx of genes from farmed animals to their wild cousins (when they still exist)? If this problem is posed differently according to the species of animal, it is not reduced to them since it also concerns species of plants (e.g. Wild black poplar trees threatened by the genetic pollution of farmed poplars. Their genes are likely to cross over by flux and give rise to hybrid poplar trees).
The articles that make up this issue give a good idea of the extent to which socialising genes, and more generally biological resources, is a complex regulatory undertaking. Complex because these resources have an all-increasing connectivity and they are the bearers of heterogeneous and sometimes divergent interests (e.g. industrial, scientific, ecological, medical and political logics are at work in the use of biological resources and don’t converge naturally). All the more complex because, to be involved in actions, these resources must comply to criteria that give them the legitimacy without which they would be contested.
Therefore being capable of implementing testing devices devised to apprehend the quality of biological resources would appear to be a political stake of the utmost importance. One can wager that these tests will not be limited to a market based dimension. In the case of biological resources, questioning the place of economical evaluation within their use and questioning the relevance of their economic anchoring (as well as market regulations) is one, and not the least, of the issues at stake as a way of taking into account the dynamics of the living in human activities.
Even if this introductory text bears my name only, it is not an exclusively individual undertaking. I would like to thank the editing committee of the revue for their trust, particularly D. Vinck, R. Arventis, F. Charvolin and especially D. Pontille who suggested the idea to me and supported the project throughout its conception. I would like equally to thank Soisik Faulkner and “Les poissons de Babel” for their help assistance.