Taking the early tissue culture experiments of Alexis Carrel in the 1910s–1930s as its example, the article explores the relationship between advances in biotechnological control over living matter and a holistic ontology of life, which stresses the temporal specificity of living things. With reference to Henri Bergson, Carrel argued that physiological time depends on an organism’s relationship to its milieu. By developing a laboratory apparatus and culture media, new objects of investigation could be made to live outside the organism and be brought to behave in novel temporal ways. In difference to recent biotechnological advances, like for example genome editing, which seek to ‘engineer’ living organisms by rebuilding them from their DNA up, then, early twentieth century interventionist laboratory practices were often linked to an understanding that biological plasticity results from organismic complexity and interactions between organism and milieu. These notions contributed to shaping laboratory apparatuses and techniques; they also helped to establish an understanding of environmental control that would allow for the production of novel ‘living things’.
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Kelz, R. (2021). Tissue culture and biological time: Alexis Carrel, Henri Bergson and the plasticity of living matter. BioSocieties. doi:10.1057/s41292-020-00224-2.
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