Open Source Gendercodes

  • Description
  • Updates
  • FAQ

Featured On Vice Motherboard Read the Article

Open Source Gendercodes (OSG) is a project focused on developing an open source platform for the production of sex hormones. The development of a transgenic plant that could allow “laypeople” to grow sex hormones would not only call into question the cultural and institutional frameworks that govern queer and trans bodies, it would also challenge the current system of pharmaceutical production. Can we imagine a communal system of pharmaceutical production in which biological materials are collectively owned?

 

What are you doing with the hormones… is this Illegal?

I have consulted with FBI agents who work specifically with biohacking labs, and what I’m doing is legal. Once I get to the point of extracting hormones from plants for human use, there are legal and regulatory constraints that I will need to work within. My goal is to make sex hormones more accessible to queers, trans people, gender-hackers, and anyone who could benefit from more affordable access. This work is a protest against the pathologization of gender variation and a proposal for an alternative to the privatized pharmaceutical industry. Check out the FAQ section for more detailed answers!
For more information on the ways gender variation is pathologized and the negative impacts of this practice Stop Trans Pathologization
For more details on my research, and how I plan to make a hormone producing plant, watch this video
For images and information on the rewards that I’m offering for contributions, watch this video
Click here if you don’t care about the rewards and want to donate an amount you specify.

 

One Year at Pelling Lab

I recently connected with Andrew Pelling of Pelling Lab in Ottawa, Canada. He has generously offered to support OSG with lab access, any required training and a network of specialists. Unfortunately his lab is unable to offer a living stipend to an artist. During my year at Pelling Lab, I’ll gain invaluable experience / training, and begin developing a prototype. The project will not be over after one year. I’ve been documenting my lab work with photos and videos, a practice I’ll continue in Ottawa. I’ll use my training as a web-designer to create an interactive interface with scientific protocols, a video history of gender / biotech, and speculate on potential futures for this technology. I’ll offer workshops at BUGSS for queer and trans people to learn techniques developed at Pelling Lab and contribute to OSG.

I’ve learned from other researchers who’ve successfully developed transgenic tobacco production systems that this project will take many years. Recreating an entire metabolic pathway in a plant is an incredibly complex task. This is a starting point that will help the project grow, and give me new skills to bring back to community labs.

 

Background

For the past year I’ve been working in a community biohacking lab in Baltimore, MD (called BUGSS) to learn the techniques of Synthetic Biology, explore new aesthetics, and develop a plan for OSG. I’ve connected with experts around the world, including Stan Gelvin of Purdue University, Sebastian Cocioba of SVA’s bio art lab, and Oded Shoseyov of The Hebrew University of Jeruselum, all of whom have helped guide the work. Through my interactions with scientists I’ve discovered how important the perspective of the the layperson is in the laboratory. Especially, in labs dealing with Synthetic Biology and genetics, which have incredible capacities for harming as well as healing. These sciences have strong historical roots in eugenics and oppressive power. As an artist, I am a mediator between communities that are too often mutually exclusive. By giving talks in scientific contexts on the history of gender and LGBTQ liberation, I bring the queer community into the lab. By gaining access to, and appropriating tools of science for queer agendas, I’ll bring the lab to queer communities. My training as an artist and visual thinker is helpful when taking complex ideas from one isolated group and communicating them with another. Being an artist frees me from the economy and politics of science which can constrict career scientists’ thinking. I’m afforded freedom to imagine, to experiment, to fail, to be interdisciplinary.

 

Biography

Ryan Hammond is a new media artist living and working in Baltimore MD. His work explores the myth of scientific objectivity by focusing on the often unseen interplay between scientific advancement and cultural production. For the past two years, he was a teacher // artist in residence at Futuremakers: a Baltimore based startup prototyping and facilitating STEAM experiences throughout the Baltimore Washington region. He received a BFA from MICA in spring 2012 with a minor in sustainability and social practice. Most recently completed projects include a series of workshops on DIY Geoengineering funded by NRG Energy Inc. and an exhibition of speculative product designs / techno-fictions created collaboratively with senior tech students at Western High School in Baltimore MD.

for more information and pictures of past work, visit my website here

 

Budget

Budgeted living costs are specific to Ottawa Canada and have been confirmed with my contacts who live in the area. The amounts listed below are in American Dollars, not Canadian Dollars.

 

Living Expenses

ONE YEARS RENT IN A GROUP HOUSE $5,426.18

ONE YEAR OF GROCERIES $4,617.45

TRANSPORTATION (YEAR OF BUS PASSES) $1,150.80

HEALTH INSURANCE (One year of Canadian traveler’s insurance) $1,203.71

CELL SERVICE $660.00

ADOBE CREATIVE CLOUD $240.00

MISC (toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, vitamins, life maintenance basics) $1808.73

TOTAL $15,106.87

DNA Synthesis Costs

DNA SYNTHESIS (enough to cover synthesis of 7 genes) $2,023.00

G-ASSEMBLY MASTER MIX (enough for 50 reactions) $630

UNFORESEEN COSTS $2000

TOTAL $4,653.00

Transaction Fees

ESTIMATED COST OF PAYPAL TRANSACTION FEES 2.9% FEE ON ALL TRANSACTIONS $544.04

.30 CENT FEE PER TRANSACTION (if all donations were $20) $289.55

MAILING AND MATERIALS COSTS FOR REWARDS $1,406.54

TOTAL $2,240.13

 

GRAND TOTAL $22,000.00

 

FAQs:

 

If you have any questions that aren’t answered below, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Will I get a transgenic hormone producing tobacco plant for donating?
No, the plants that I produce through this first round of experiments won’t be distributed. This is because I’m using a bacteria called “Agrobacterium” to insert genes into the plants. This bacteria is considered a plant pathogen, and it is illegal to transport plants that have been infected with Agrobacterium. I’m using Agro because it’s a cheap and proven method to get genes into the tobacco plant. It’s the best way to make a prototype to act as a proof of concept allowing me to pursue further funding for more in depth research and development. The methods and protocols developed to create this initial prototype will be well documented and freely available online for anyone who want’s to experiment with them, and the prototype will be shown in a gallery.
Why are you using Tobacco plants?
The tobacco plant has been extensively studied and proven to be a model plant for molecular “pharming” — for producing pharmaceuticals through agricultural methods. It is very hearty and easy to grow, so in terms of this method of production being open and accessible, it’s the perfect plant. It’s also very receptive to agrobacterium mediated transformation, my chosen method for getting the new genes into the plant. Transgenic Tobacco plants have been successfully developed to produce useful chemicals such as an Ebola vaccine, collagen, and hemoglobin. I met a researcher who worked to develop a collagen producing transgenic tobacco plant which has already gone to market in Israel, and his advice has helped guide the project.
Is there a possibility of getting nicotine from the plants when trying to take the hormones?
Once this initial prototype is developed, there are several things that need to be done to make it a viable method of producing hormones for human use. The metabolic pathways involved in producing the hormones will need to be tweaked and optimized to make it efficient. Cheap and effective methods for extraction will need to be developed to make sure they’re pure and safe. And finally, cheap methods of dosing the hormones will need to be developed to ensure that they’re being taken in a safe and responsible way. That being said, getting rid of the nicotine will be the simplest part, as there are strains with little to no nicotine, and nicotine production can be eliminated all together by grafting the plant onto a potato root system.
Are you going to patent the plants and sell them for profit? What's in it for you?
I am an artist, and this is my artwork. I have to make money to survive, but the purpose of crowd sourcing funding rather than working for a company is to evade the need to patent and sell the product of my research for profit. My goal is to develop an accessible method of producing hormones that can be dedicated to the commons to prevent it ever being patented and monetized. This work is an experiment not only in synthetic biology and plant//human hybrids, but in speculating on what a communal pharmaceutical production system might look like. Is it possible to imagine a system in which all people have access to these tools, in which pharmaceuticals and useful chemicals can be grown cheaply. Could we have community hubs where pharmaceuticals could be grown and medical knowledge shared with those in the community? I’m not discounting the fact, that many medical decisions, diagnosis, and methods of administering treatment require years of intense study, and a deep understanding of the human body, molecular biology, etc. But I do think we can collectively imagine and work towards a system in which the cost of treatment is affordable, a system in which a trans-person could be in control of what happens to their body, and doesn’t need to seek out black market hormones.
Are the hormones only for trans-people? Are you a trans person?
I am not trans. I am a queer person who is interested in science, and interested in the ways science has historically, and still is trying to regulate sexuality and gender expression. We’ve come very far since the period from the early 50’s to the mid 70’s when queerness was illegal and proclaimed a psychological disorder. During this time, homosexuality, transvestism, and what was then called “psychopathia transexualis” were treated as psychoses… deviant behaviors, which could be cured or treated with a range of violent treatments from chemical castration, to electroshock and aversion therapy, to psycho-surgery. The regulation of sexuality and gender is less explicit in contemporary western society, but it is still present. My interest is in what would happen if hormones were deregulated and became accessible to queers, trans people, gender-hackers, or anyone really. That being said, sex hormones are therapeutically useful for a number of medical conditions, and a cheap method of producing them could have wider implications.
What if one year isn't enough time to produce a working prototype and the money is wasted?
One year will not be enough time to produce a complete bioproduction system that makes testosterone or estrogen. The production of these hormones is a multistage process, involving multiple enzymatic transformations, meaning multiple genes will need to be integrated into the tobacco plant to code for the production of those enzymes. One year at Pelling Lab will get me at least to the first stage, involving only one enzyme and corresponding gene which performs several transformations to produce pregnenolone and 17 alpha-hydroxypregnenolone. I am simultaneously seeking grantfunding from several organizations to match the funds I raise through this crowd-funding campaign. I’ve learned from others who’ve successfully developed transgenic tobacco production systems with a similar scope that this project will take many years. Recreating an entire metabolic pathway in a plant is an incredibly complex task. This is a starting point that can help the project grow, and give me new skills to bring back to community labs.
Is the tobacco plant really the best way to create an opensource hormone production platform?
The tobacco plant is promising, but there are other methods I’m evaluating simultaneuously, and hope to experiment with at Pelling Lab. I’ve identified several strains of bacteria that other researchers have successfully used to transform cholesterol, as well as other phytosterol substrates into testosterone with up to 85% efficiency. Currently bioreactors that would enable the cultivation of these organisms in a safe way to produce hormones are costly and difficult to maintain, making this a less than ideal method. The other concern is that with microorganisms, there is greater risk of contamination. With plants, the organism is visible, and it’s immobile (unless flowering, then pollen becomes mobile). It will be important to make sure the plant is grown responsible so as to not contaminate wild species and have sex hormone plants all over the place! But there is a built in safety measure to help prevent this: these transgenic, pharmaceutical producing plants are coddled in the lab. They have no competition, and all the food, water, space, and light they could want. In the wild, because of the extra metabolic burden of producing chemicals for human use (not for their survival) they wouldn’t have a chance competing with wild-type species.
You're making a half human half plant monster! How could this be safe!?
GMO’s get a bad rap because they are poorly regulated (if at all depending on where you are) and they are developed by many companies for selfish purposes. Companies like Monsanto who crush small farmers, sue innocent people because the wind blows pollen from field to field, and create terrifying sounding traits like terminator genes to maximize profit and control give genetic modification a bad name. The ways it has been used — the most publicized uses of GMOs don’t give credit to the incredible potential of the technology if used responsibly, and evaluated with a holistic, systems approach. I will not be doing anything in haste. It’s very important to me that everything is done legally, and with ultimate respect for life.
You made your own crowdfunding website... why didn't you use Kickstarter or Indiegogo?
On top of the Paypal transaction fees that I have to pay to do online crowdfunding I would have to pay a percentage of the donations to the service. Kickstarter takes 5% and Indiegogo takes 4-9% depending on how much $ you make. When your dealing with large amounts of money, those percentages count. With the system I’m using (Ignitiondeck) I only had to pay a small amount upfront, on top of the Paypal transaction fees, meaning more of the money you donate will go towards the actual project.

 

Documenting the Science

January 4th 2016

I'm putting together a website with detailed documentation of my process and the science behind OSG. I'm oping an accessible and transparent process will spark other's imaginations and help this idea grow. It's a work in progress, which should be fleshed out by the end of January.webcap

Johns Hopkins Biotech and Biology Students Join OSG

December 8th 2015

I recently connected with two Biotechnology and Biology students from Johns Hopkins University who expressed interest in contributing to OSG (and who wish to remain anonymous). Very excited to have more minds with fresh perspectives joining the team to help with research and development!

Connecting with USDA-APHIS

December 7th 2015

I spoke with John Turner the director of environmental risk analysis at the USDA-APHIS who assured me that I was working legally and within regulation. I am now in the process of applying for permits to transport genetically modified materials.

Featured in the International Business Times

December 6th 2015

The International Business Times recently wrote an article about the project titled, Biologist to develop ‘transgenic tobacco plants’ for trans people to grow sex hormones at home. So grateful for the publicity, and visibility. I've received so many messages from people with concerns, hopes, excitement, encouragement, doubts, and questions. This campaign is valuable not only for the money that will give time to develop the project further, but for the incredible people it has connected me with. I'm so excited to have more trans and queer scientists, engineers, activists, and thinkers involved going forward, contributing, and holding the work accountable to the communities it could serve.

Featured on Vice Motherboard

December 1st 2015

OSG was recently featured on the technology news site, Vice Motherboard in an article titled, Queer Artist Launches DIY Gender Hormone Biohacking Project. A big thank you to Kari Paul for writing the phenomenal write up. She does a great job addressing ethical issues, questions of plausibility, and getting other voices to weigh in on the current state of trans healthcare. It's definitely worth reading!

Citizen Scientists Connected

November 29th 2015

Since starting this campaign, I've connected with other artists//designers//scientists who are working towards a similar goal. Mary Maggic is an Artist in MIT's design fiction program who is exploring open source methods of producing Estrogen. Ada Walpole is a designer in London biohacking to produce estrogen and progesterone on a local level for hormonal contraceptives. We'll be running experiments, sharing research and results, and cross-pollinating ideas. All across thousands of miles of ocean and land, thanks internet.

Marine Algea an Ideal Chasis

November 28th 2015

Very Excited to discover Will Patrick's project, Farma as I've been looking into marine species of algae with unusually high cholesterol content as a vehicle for pharming the sex hormones. Will's designed and shared the plans for a beautifully designed algae bioreactor that could potentially used to grow pharmaceutical producing greens. I'm excited to dig deeper into his models to see how it could be made cheaply and redesigned to serve queer and trans needs.

Portuguese subtitles added

November 27th 2015

The main video now has Portuguese subtitles available so you can share it with all your friends in Brazil and Portugal! Big thank you to Paula Marchesini for donating her time. Spanish, French, and Hindi translation to come.

Will I get a transgenic hormone producing tobacco plant for donating?
No, the plants that I produce through this first round of experiments won't be distributed. This is because I'm using a bacteria called "Agrobacterium" to insert genes into the plants. This bacteria is considered a plant pathogen, and it is illegal to transport plants that have been infected with Agrobacterium. I'm using Agro because it's a cheap and proven method to get genes into the tobacco plant. It's the best way to make a prototype to act as a proof of concept allowing me to pursue further funding for more in depth research and development. The methods and protocols developed to create this initial prototype will be well documented and freely available online for anyone who want's to experiment with them, and the prototype will be shown in a gallery.
Why are you using Tobacco plants?
The tobacco plant has been extensively studied and proven to be a model plant for molecular "pharming" -- for producing pharmaceuticals through agricultural methods. It is very hearty and easy to grow, so in terms of this method of production being open and accessible, it's the perfect plant. It's also very receptive to agrobacterium mediated transformation, my chosen method for getting the new genes into the plant. Transgenic Tobacco plants have been successfully developed to produce useful chemicals such as an Ebola vaccine, collagen, and hemoglobin. I met a researcher who worked to develop a collagen producing transgenic tobacco plant which has already gone to market in Israel, and his advice has helped guide the project.
Is there a possibility of getting nicotine from the plants when trying to take the hormones?
Once this initial prototype is developed, there are several things that need to be done to make it a viable method of producing hormones for human use. The metabolic pathways involved in producing the hormones will need to be tweaked and optimized to make it efficient. Cheap and effective methods for extraction will need to be developed to make sure they're pure and safe. And finally, cheap methods of dosing the hormones will need to be developed to ensure that they're being taken in a safe and responsible way. That being said, getting rid of the nicotine will be the simplest part, as there are strains with little to no nicotine, and nicotine production can be eliminated all together by grafting the plant onto a potato root system.
Are you going to patent the plants and sell them for profit? What's in it for you?
I am an artist, and this is my artwork. I have to make money to survive, but the purpose of crowd sourcing funding rather than working for a company is to evade the need to patent and sell the product of my research for profit. My goal is to develop an accessible method of producing hormones that can be dedicated to the commons to prevent it ever being patented and monetized. This work is an experiment not only in synthetic biology and plant//human hybrids, but in speculating on what a communal pharmaceutical production system might look like. Is it possible to imagine a system in which all people have access to these tools, in which pharmaceuticals and useful chemicals can be grown cheaply. Could we have community hubs where pharmaceuticals could be grown and medical knowledge shared with those in the community? I'm not discounting the fact, that many medical decisions, diagnosis, and methods of administering treatment require years of intense study, and a deep understanding of the human body, molecular biology, etc. But I do think we can collectively imagine and work towards a system in which the cost of treatment is affordable, a system in which a trans-person could be in control of what happens to their body, and doesn't need to seek out black market hormones.
Are the hormones only for trans-people? Are you a trans person?
I am not trans. I am a queer person who is interested in science, and interested in the ways science has historically, and still is trying to regulate sexuality and gender expression. We've come very far since the period from the early 50's to the mid 70's when queerness was illegal and proclaimed a psychological disorder. During this time, homosexuality, transvestism, and what was then called "psychopathia transexualis" were treated as psychoses... deviant behaviors, which could be cured or treated with a range of violent treatments from chemical castration, to electroshock and aversion therapy, to psycho-surgery. The regulation of sexuality and gender is less explicit in contemporary western society, but it is still present. My interest is in what would happen if hormones were deregulated and became accessible to queers, trans people, gender-hackers, or anyone really. That being said, sex hormones are therapeutically useful for a number of medical conditions, and a cheap method of producing them could have wider implications.
What if one year isn't enough time to produce a working prototype and the money is wasted?
One year will not be enough time to produce a complete bioproduction system that makes testosterone or estrogen. The production of these hormones is a multistage process, involving multiple enzymatic transformations, meaning multiple genes will need to be integrated into the tobacco plant to code for the production of those enzymes. One year at Pelling Lab will get me at least to the first stage, involving only one enzyme and corresponding gene which performs several transformations to produce pregnenolone and 17 alpha-hydroxypregnenolone. I am simultaneously seeking grantfunding from several organizations to match the funds I raise through this crowd-funding campaign. I've learned from others who've successfully developed transgenic tobacco production systems with a similar scope that this project will take many years. Recreating an entire metabolic pathway in a plant is an incredibly complex task. This is a starting point that can help the project grow, and give me new skills to bring back to community labs.
Is the tobacco plant really the best way to create an opensource hormone production platform?
The tobacco plant is promising, but there are other methods I'm evaluating simultaneuously, and hope to experiment with at Pelling Lab. I've identified several strains of bacteria that other researchers have successfully used to transform cholesterol, as well as other phytosterol substrates into testosterone with up to 85% efficiency. Currently bioreactors that would enable the cultivation of these organisms in a safe way to produce hormones are costly and difficult to maintain, making this a less than ideal method. The other concern is that with microorganisms, there is greater risk of contamination. With plants, the organism is visible, and it's immobile (unless flowering, then pollen becomes mobile). It will be important to make sure the plant is grown responsible so as to not contaminate wild species and have sex hormone plants all over the place! But there is a built in safety measure to help prevent this: these transgenic, pharmaceutical producing plants are coddled in the lab. They have no competition, and all the food, water, space, and light they could want. In the wild, because of the extra metabolic burden of producing chemicals for human use (not for their survival) they wouldn't have a chance competing with wild-type species.
You're making a half human half plant monster! How could this be safe!?
GMO's get a bad rap because they are poorly regulated (if at all depending on where you are) and they are developed by many companies for selfish purposes. Companies like Monsanto who crush small farmers, sue innocent people because the wind blows pollen from field to field, and create terrifying sounding traits like terminator genes to maximize profit and control give genetic modification a bad name. The ways it has been used -- the most publicized uses of GMOs don't give credit to the incredible potential of the technology if used responsibly, and evaluated with a holistic, systems approach. I will not be doing anything in haste. It's very important to me that everything is done legally, and with ultimate respect for life.
You made your own crowdfunding website... why didn't you use Kickstarter or Indiegogo?
On top of the Paypal transaction fees that I have to pay to do online crowdfunding I would have to pay a percentage of the donations to the service. Kickstarter takes 5% and Indiegogo takes 4-9% depending on how much $ you make. When your dealing with large amounts of money, those percentages count. With the system I'm using (Ignitiondeck) I only had to pay a small amount upfront, on top of the Pay Pal transaction fees, meaning more of the money you donate will go towards the actual project.

This is a unique website which will require a more modern browser to work!

Please upgrade today!