Gints Gabrans

“FOOOD”  /  "Metabolic Dominance"

The artist is presenting two works from his project "FOOOD" - involving the exploration of cellulolytic enzymes that would make it possible for humans to digest cellulose. The project presents both a creative solution to feed the growing population of the world and possible uses of the enzyme within warfare and culinaric gastronomy.

Part one - “FOOOD”
By 2050 the number of world’s population, according to UN estimates, will reach 9 billion, and we will need 70 per cent more food. Gints Gabrāns, in FOOOD, offers another solution than increased food production: What if we could eat wood?

Cellulose is a tough material that forms the cell walls of all plants. Humans cannot digest it, so plant foods are only partially absorbed by our systems. In the project, the artist proposes to genetically modify gut bacteria (metabolic bifidobacteria) to synthesise an enzyme that can break down cellulose.
These cellulolytic enzymes would allow humans to make more efficient use of food from the plant world – potatoes, carrots, cabbage etc. that contain a significant amount of the cellulose that we cannot yet digest. They would also allow for completely new types of food resources such as wood and paper.

Part two - “Metabolic Dominance”.                                      
In 2004, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced a competition to provide soldiers with the means of carrying out battle operations without food reserves. Gabrāns and his team responded with the project “Metabolic Dominance”, based on the ideas in FOOOD. Cellulose disintegrating enzymes would give soldiers the chance to obtain nutrients from any available plants and timber, or, in circumstances of urban warfare, from paper. For example, if it proves possible to create a full cellulose disintegration process, 11% more kilocalories could be obtained from 100 g of paper than from 100 g of bread (400 and 355 kcal respectively).
In collaboration with the microbiologist Jānis Liepiņš and the company GenScript, Gabrāns created the first bacteria of this type. Outside the human body, bifidobacteria from the human gut were genetically modified, giving them the ability to produce cellulose disintegrating enzymes. 

Gints Gabrāns, b. 1970, is a Latvian new media artist. He has exhibited widely in Europe and South America, and in 2007 was the representative for the Latvian pavilion of the 52nd Venice Biennial.