The European Research Council has awarded a grant to researchers at Germany’s Goethe University Frankfurt interested in understanding the social impacts of cryobiology, the freezing and long-term preservation of organic material. The research, led by sociology professor Thomas Lemke, will focus on the freezing of umbilical cord blood as preparation for later regenerative therapies, the cryopreservation of egg cells for reproductive purposes and the setting up of cryobanks for the preservation of endangered or already extinct animal species.
“In our ‘Cryosocieties’ project,” explains Lemke, “I want to investigate the impact of cryopreservation on our understanding of life, starting with the hypothesis that cryobiological practices produce a specific form of life that I call ‘suspended life’. They keep many vital processes in a suspended state between life and death, in which biological substances are neither completely alive nor completely dead.” The aim of the project, he says, lies at the interface between biology, sociology and technology. The team will study how cryopreservation practices alter temporal and spatial relationships and configurations as well as our understanding of life and death, health and illness, (in)fertility and sustainability.
According to the researchers, cryobiology has seen an enormous upturn over the last decades as more and more types of tissues and cellular material can be frozen, stored and thawed again without any detectable loss of vitality. And today, the team says, cryobiological practices are not only an important infrastructural prerequisite for many medical applications and a significant driver for innovations in the life sciences but also represent important options for personal family planning decisions as well as for the preservation of global biodiversity.