“DNA11 creates abstract art from a sample of your DNA”, says their website.
While this is a pretty cool idea, I don’t agree with “abstract art”. To me; it’s just an enormous print of a very standard DNA analysis. There isn’t really anything abstract about it: it’s a photo, and the white bands are DNA.
I was glad to see that the website does offer some scientific background into how the art is made. At first glance I thought they didn’t have any background at all, making such a straighforward photo of DNA look even more mysterious, but thankfully the process is briefly explained.
So, how does it work?
There are two things you should know, and then I’ll leave you with an awesome educational interactive website.
First of all, although the majority of DNA is identitcal between humans, there are of course some unique differences. These differences are nothing more than a different nucleotide at certain points in your DNA. So, for example, some people might have AATCGGT somewhere in their DNA, while others will have AATCAGT. Mutations like this happen all the time, and often won’t even result in a different function of the eventual gene product.
The second thing you need to know is that there are so called “restriction enzymes“, which are routinely used to cut long stretches of DNA to smaller fragments. There are several of these enzymes, and they each cut DNA at a unique sequence. (For example, the enzyme EcoRI always cuts GAATTC, and the enzyme NotI always cuts GCGGCCGC. )
Because of individual differences in DNA sequence, the locations at which the enzymes cut will differ per person, and the DNA will be cut into fragments of different lengths. These fragments can be analyzed and visualized by gel electrophoresis, and this is what has been done by DNA11. Different people’s DNA will end up looking like a different pattern, because the restriction enzymes cut the DNA at different locations.
Gel electrophoresis, the technique that separates the different sized DNA fragments and shows them as a patterns of stripes, is best understood by actually doing it. The Genetic Science Learning Center website teaches the technique to high school students, and let’s you interactively run your own gel by clicking on the bottles and pipettes. It’s very detailed and realistic. (Yes, there are microwaves in biology labs, and yes, they are specifically used for this!)
If you follow through the flash presentation, you will eventually end up with something that looks exactly like the “art from DNA” that DNA11 is selling.
So that is how that works.
Now, if you buy your DNA as art, and hang it over your couch, you can tell intrigued visitors exactly how it’s made.