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The Greater Gut

Creating a Genetically modified gut bacteria that produces happiness

Project team: Group of Prof Marjan De Mey
& Matthijs De Block

Location: Design Museum Ghent

Year: 2022

Last year, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna won the nobel prize for their groundbreaking work on CRISPR technology. In 2020, A chinese scientist that produced genetically altered babies got a jail sentence of 3 year and the famous biohacker Josiah Zayner injected dna in it’s arm to change his muscle density.

As biotechnology is advancing, genetic modification becomes more and more feasible as a new technology to change the future. But how should we handle these new technologies, and how does that change our relation to nature?

The project The Greater Gut, looks at biotechnology, and the increasing influence of genetic modification. Using co-existence and happiness as societal topics, the goal of this work is to spark a debate about altering organisms for human benefits.

Matthijs de Block and the group of Professor Marjan De Mey created genetically modified gut bacteria that produce happiness through the hormone serotonin. Are they playing for God in a petri dish?



De Block & De Mey’s group added 3 pieces of DNA into an E. coli bacterium so it can convert metabolic substances into the happiness hormone serotonin. The bacterium  is transformed into a small happiness factory, living in our gut. 

The project uses novel principles of genetic modification and asks questions about our relationship with nature, microorganisms and the human microbiome. Can we modify living things as we please, if so, within which ethical framework? The bacterium is produced in the lab of UGent and cannot be consumed within the current EU and US GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) regulations.

The project consists of 3 works that show different perspectives of the bacteria.