Accepted paper:

What do these cattle do in a biomedical research center?


François Thoreau (University of Liege)

Paper short abstract:

This paper suggests ways of problematizing human health genomics departing from the practice of bovine genomics. In the situated context of the University Hospital in Liege, it questions question the boundary between medical practice and the sector of bovine industry.

Paper long abstract:

This paper starts with a surprise: while carrying out an ethnography in a large biomedical research center in Liège (Belgium), one of the most important customers in genomics was the bovine livestock industry. Bovine genomics has tremendously evolved over the last few years, leading to a whole set of practices and economics articulated around the idea of an "optimal cow" (calculated not only in sole terms of performance but through a set of weighted criteria). While the implications for human health genomics are far from obvious, this constitutes an interesting problem to raise, since the expectations, practices and discourses regarding bovines are at the same time more straight and less cautious than the ones regarding human health. In this paper, I will try to offer some insights into how bovine genomics are being practiced, e.g. the way bovine populations are built up (through indexes, consortiums, and so on). I will not try to compare or to relate it directly to what happens in human health genomics, but instead I will try to render visible some of the generic (bio)political stakes tied with genomics, i.e. experimental constitution of reference genomes and reference populations. Doing so, I will question the boundary between, on one hand, the Liège hospital and its laboratories and, on the other, the sector of bovine industry. I will attempt at locating the sites of learning, if any, where human health genomics are informed by routinized practices in bovine genomics.

panel T047
The field and the farm in the production of biomedical knowledge