Giuseppe Testa, University of Milan and European Institute of Oncology

Giuseppe Testa, University of Milan and European Institute of Oncology

Giuseppe Testa, University of Milan and European Institute of Oncology

Friday, 10 June 2016 at 15:00 in the Large Operon, EMBL Heidelberg

Giuseppe Testa, University of Milan and European Institute of Oncology

Digitising humanness across genomes, epigenomes and cells


Our biologies are increasingly unfolding within multiple parallel worlds, as a result of two convergent streams of innovation: the digitisation of living forms, and the digitisation of our forms of knowledge and sociality.

The biotechnological toolkit allows in fact to study biological phenomena more and more as integrations of digital data, sampled and archived in distinct yet increasingly interconnected spaces. Indeed, the very expansion of the life sciences into the fabric of our time is rooted in the eminent flexibility of their technological core, which entails at its most basic the following two capacities: i) that of encompassing an increasing range of biological objects and functions in digital format; and ii) that of intervening into biological objects and functions by harnessing their digital codes through a panoply of molecular switches. From genomes to epigenomes, from cellular lineages to organs, all more or less classically defined levels of biological organization are now amenable to the digitizing ambition of the life sciences. This digital gaze renders all such levels measurable and compatible with each other as representations of our health and disease states, avatars of virtually all aspects of human biology that are being progressively domesticated as objects of inquiry and experimentation.

All the while, the pervasive digitisation of our knowledge and relationships is yielding just as many avatars of human sociality, in a public sphere that becomes transparent intersection of spaces hitherto considered eminently private: the profiles of our consumption, the traces of our ideas and emotions, the patterns and locations of our exposed lives that have come to represent the increasingly fragmented projections of our selves.

Against this backdrop, I probe the mutual constitution of epistemic and societal arrangements in biomedicine, introducing the notion of scale as an innovative tool for policy-relevant theorizing and engagement, for scientists and lay publics alike. Specifically, the notion of scale captures and exposes the deepening gaze of the life sciences in exploring matters of major societal concern through an array of distinct yet compatible levels of inquiry, enabling the simultaneous investigation of the corresponding scales of governance and regulation through which developments in the life sciences are feeding into society, and vice versa. To this end, I build on recent advances from two streams of my scholarship, the use of epigenetic reprogramming for patient-specific disease models and the analysis of participatory and regulatory practices at the interface of technoscientific and societal innovation.


Giuseppe Testa holds an MD from the University of Perugia, a PhD from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, and an MA in Health Care Ethics and Law from the University of Manchester.

A European Research Council (ERC) awardee, Giuseppe Testa is Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Milan and Principal Investigator at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan where he heads the Laboratory of Stem Cell Epigenetics focusing on epigenetic regulation, cell reprogramming and disease-modeling. Key accomplishments include the development of new genome engineering technologies, the characterization of novel histone demethylases required for neural development, the functional dissection of the epigenetic mechanisms underlying reprogramming to pluripotency and the first reprogramming-based models of human diseases caused by symmetric gene dosage imbalances. His unique accomplishment is the successful pursuit of a parallel career as practicing life scientist and scholar in Bioethics and Science and Technology Studies (STS).

He has published in leading peer reviewed journals including Nature Genetics, Nature Communications, Cell, Cell Stem Cell, Cell Reports, Stem Cell Reports, Nature, Nature Biotechnology, Science, PLoS Genetics, Biosocieties, Bioethics, Science as Culture, Journal of Medical Ethics, New Genetics and Society. His first book ‘Naked genes: Reinventing the Human in the Molecular Age’, co-authored with Helga Nowotny, published in German, English and Italian and currently under translation into Russian, was widely reviewed in the leading press, including Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, Nature, The Financial Times, Il Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica. He co-organized major international conferences, including ‘The Times of Cloning: Historical and Cultural Aspects of a Biotechnological Research Field’ at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, ‘Reprogramming Cell Fate’ at the European Institute of Oncology and the interdisciplinary summer school at the EMBL ‘Deconstructing and Reconstructing Life: from Classification to Design’. He serves on several research networks and academic societies, including the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), the International Human Epigenome Consortium (IHEC), the European Bank for induced pluripotent Stem Cells (EBiSC) and the Italian Society of Cell Biology and Differentiation (ABCD). He is member of the editorial board of Cell Press journal Stem Cell Reports, of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and of the Journal of Medical Ethics, and is the recipient of several scientific prizes, including in 2003 the Roche Prize for leading bioscientist of the next decade.