Mouse leather jacket: the latest fashion?

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Mouse leather jacket: the latest fashion?
Mouse leather jacket: the latest fashion?

A mouse leather jacket, is something that maybe no person would want to wear. However, in 2008, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York exhibited a tiny ‘leather jacket’ that was not made from cowhide, but from mouse fabric.

The artwork was entitled Victimess Leather, and was created by “bio-artists” Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr of the SymbioticA laboratory at the University of Western Australia.

How a mouse leather jacket is made

The procedure to create the leather jacket was more or less as follows: cells derived from mouse embryonic stem cells were grown in a polymer structure that guided them so that they could shape the tiny garment.

The bioreactor used in this project was custom-made, based on an organ perfusion pump designed by Alexis Carrel and Charles Lindbergh (yes, the famous aviator). What Carrel wanted to achieve was to preserve life outside the body: to keep tissues and organs alive “in vitro”, that is, in glass containers. His device was called the “Model T” pump and, in later years, was perfected by others, eventually leading to the construction of the first heart-lung machine.

'The organ perfusion pump' designed by Alexis Carrel and Charles Lindbergh
‘The organ perfusion pump’ designed by Alexis Carrel and Charles Lindbergh

However, the jacket did not survive for long, because within a few weeks of being on display one of the sleeves fell off, and soon after that the tissue cells began to separate from the polymer structure.

How to Grow a Human
How to Grow a Human

The ‘mouse cell jacket’ had a claiming purpose, as explained by the exhibition’s curator, Paola Antonelli, in the book How to Grow a Human, by Philip Ball:

The idea of in vitro production of imitation leather materials as a solution to the problems associated with the manufacture of animal leather for human consumption, was part of a broader set of works that addressed the use being made of technology to overshadow, rather than eliminate, the victims of our consumption

However, if this idea, which seems a little crazy, were to be taken up again and perfected, many animals, even those that are in serious danger of extinction, could be saved from dying thanks to the laboratory production of their fur.

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