Bacteria on display—can we, and should we? Artistically exploring the ethics of public engagement with science in microbiology

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Abstract

The field of microbiology presents unique opportunities, and accompanying challenges, for artistic collaborations. On one hand, artistic works enable exploration of the aesthetics and of issues in biomedical science and new technologies, and draw in new, non-scientific audiences. On the other hand, creating art with microbes requires rigorous consideration of health and safety. Artists working in this field, known as Bio Art, tend to want to push the boundaries of what is possible or ‘known', and work with new biomedical tools as they become available. However, when an artist's proposed work is raising novel questions where the risks are not fully understood, who should decide if the benefits outweigh the consequences? The reflections of an art-collaborating scientist are related. Also, considered is how close working relationships between disciplines can enable new ethical frameworks that consider these decisions, respecting artists' endeavours as a beneficial form of research in its own right, and even learning from the rich perspectives of artists to broaden reflections on the practice of science.

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