Why Singapore Trumps Iceland: Gathering Genes in the Wild

Aihwa Ong

UC Berkeley


Bioscience in action in Singapore, I argue, is an effort to find new ways to act on life problems in this particular research milieu, an "Asia" coming into view as a crucible of genetic vulnerabilities, emergent diseases and an instigator of hope for healthy futures by shaping an intensive geography of life that cuts across political boundaries. 

My talk discusses a very early point in the racialization of pharmaceuticals in Asia.

At Biopolis, a biomedical hub in Singapore, researchers responded to the sequencing of the human genome project (2003) by making forays into DNA in "the wild" in the Asia-Pacific.  I show how biostatisticians actively deploy Asian ethnicities to enhance DNA data, the deployment of ethnicity as an immutable mobile, and other practices that underpin claims that their DNA database is "more valuable" than existing databases in the West.  Through their strategic choices of practices, objects, and maneuvers, and positions, biostatisticians and other experts in Singapore fashion a distinctive style that enrolls, re-activates, and re-values existing cultural notions of racial/ethnic difference, bringing about new relations of genomics, race, bioeconomy, and geo-biosociality.