Aug 25, 2008

Art, Genomics and Daily Life

A couple months ago, I started my investigation on the interaction between visual arts and genomics. The goal is to stimulate public debate on the possibilities and impacts of genomics on everybody's daily life.

In collaboration with my colleagues, I have created two digital frames in the first series of works. They were displayed at the ISMB conference in Toronto, 2008 and recognized by the ISCB Visual Reflections On Science award. They are currently on display at the ECCB conference in Europe.

Work #1:

Portrait of James D. Watson in his own Word, 2008

Jared Flatow, Brian Chamberlain, and Simon Lin

(click on the picture to zoom in)

According to Wikipedia, "a portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person". Instead of simply using color pigments, we use unique portions of Dr. James Watson's DNA sequence to portrait himself. Dr. Watson was the discoverer of the structure of the DNA and helped to establish the Human Genome Project.DNA, as a primary genetic material, defines the molecular signature of oneself. Dr. Watson's DNA was fully sequenced and made public in 2007 by The Baylor College of Medicine Genome Sequencing Center, 454 Life Sciences Technology, and The Rothberg Institute. We used the SNPs, which define the small differences of DNA from person to person, to uniquely represent Dr. Watson. In order to do this, we took the variant allele base pairs from Dr. Watson's genome (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory distribution, 6/6/2007) which had a sequence observation count greater than 12, and generated a portrait capturing his phenotype.

Work #2:

DNA and Community, 2008

Simon Lin and Jared Flatow
(click on the picture to zoom in)

Artists constantly explore the interactions between science and society. We looked into the public understanding of DNA in the Web 2.0 era by retrieving Creative Commons (CC)-licensed photos from the Flickr (photo-sharing) website. We retrieved 899 images using the topics of DNA and myself on April 6, 2008. We rearranged these images using a mosaic algorithm to reveal the hidden message of "DNA and Community". Traditional art uses oil and brush; we are using Python and the internet to experiment with new building blocks of CC-licensed photos. By integrating the photos through the lens of 899 individuals, we are investigating how people share their life stories (Flickr) and how people share their creative responsibility (CC license). It is interesting to note that our work is also licensed under CC and thus has 899 lines of acknowledgements.