Bioartist is breeding flies adapted for life on Titan

Since 2011, Andy Gracie has been selectively breeding flies to thrive under the harsh environmental conditions on Titan, Saturn's largest moon: dark, cold (-179.2C), and with very low atmospheric pressure.

Gracie is breeding Drosophilae (he calls his species Drosophila Titanus), a species with a long history of being sent into space as part of experiments seeking to understand the effects of space on living organisms.

Gracie's interview with We Make Money Not Art is a fantastic look at the strange world of bioart, the difficulties posed by life in space, and the strange, modern accessibility of biological manipulation techniques.

The chamber is an apparatus that has evolved over time as the project has developed. I’m not a great forward planner so the device adapted as I had new ideas or as new necessities presented themselves. The first consideration was being able to make it cold, then to add LEDs that would simulate the Titan lighting conditions. I was lately developing seals that would allow the internal pressure to be increased in order to begin the atmospheric pressure experiment. Future experiments would probably have demanded the fabrication of an entirely new device.

Outside of the main simulator I also made the gravitational realignment torus, it being impractical to rotate the main apparatus. This device did not have a cooling system so gravitaxis experiments had to take place in the winter with the heating off.

A large part of the project for me was drawing from my background in DIY culture – how to improvise experimental apparatus outside of a laboratory or research facility. I was interested in how subtle adjustments of everyday objects and situations can provide conditions that are not typically terrestrial.

The epic task of breeding fruit flies for life on Titan [Regine/We Make Money Not Art]