“…I am convinced that it will not be long before the whole world acknowledges the results of my work.”
-Fr. Gregor Mendel
(founder of science of Genetics)-
Reader did you know the science of Genetics has advanced so much it’s now possible for forensic experts to reconstruct accurate reconstructions of human faces from DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) samples? Geneticists will be able to accurately rebuild a human body in its entirety even if the person died thousands of years ago? Think of the possibilities. Think of the liabilities.
When Dr. Gregor Mendel Austro-Hungarian priest-scientist founded the science of Genetics it’s believed he didn’t have the faintest notion the nascent science would advance so far in so short a time. From experiments with simple plants to accurate facial reconstructions by studying microscopic particles in little over a century is nothing short of miraculous.
DNA is a molecule that contains or encodes genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms and many viruses. DNA is responsible for you being you; your hair, racial makeup, physical features, your IQ, the whole nine yards all that is you is the direct product of DNA encoding. DNA is ideally suited to store all of your biological information from your basic features to the atomic structure that makes you the person that you are. DNA keeps you together.
Information artist-bio-hacker Heather Dewey-Hagborg a Philadelphia native and Chicago resident is well known for her Stranger Visions project. These are a series of portraits developed from DNA discards such as chewing gum, human hair, cigarettes and the like she recovered when she lived in New York. She sequenced the items DNA at Genspace Brooklyn’s open biotechnology lab. From her experiments she’s been able to determine race, gender and other prime factors then used face-generating software and a 3D printer and created a 3D portrait. From there she went on to cast accurate human faces from the person’s DNA strands; in short Heather can make an accurate mask of your face from a single strand of your DNA!
Reader, here’s how she does it: First she extracts DNA from aforementioned samples. She amplifies/copies specific regions of the genome an organism’s genetic material. Then she uses a method called a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) a technique in molecular genetics that permits the analysis of any short sequences of DNA or RNA from samples containing only minute quantities of DNA or RNA examples being again aforementioned examples (hair, cigarette butts, used chewing gum, etc.). Reader…you still here—good…once amplified it’s possible to identify single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) snips which contain variables in base pairs that give clues to a person’s individual genetic make-up (e.g., your eye color). These results are sent to a lab for sequencing to determine the order of chemical units in the polymer chain. Next Heather receives a genetic blueprint a text file full of coded information that identifies the positioning of the four nucleobases adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine or ATC and G which makes up the sections of the genome she’s interested in. This data is entered into a customized computer program she wrote. The program interprets the code and provides her with a list of traits including propensity for obesity, eye color, hair color, skin tone, gender, freckles and hair curls. Heather then takes these traits sometimes as many as 50 and enters them into a face-generating program to configure the 3D portraits. Before she makes the final 3D print Heather generates several different versions of the face then she chooses the one she finds most aesthetically appealing.
Reader what does this mean in lay terms; artist-scientists can now reconstruct with near complete accuracy your face with only a microscopic strand of your DNA say a hair sample; in time your entire body! Professionals in the field of genetic sculpting are currently working on piecing together prehistoric skulls to determine exactly how that person looked millions of years ago! The potential for this new technology that merges art with science is promising yet small in comparison to human genetic engineering.
Like all new scientific discoveries it’s difficult to label them good or bad. The ideal of human genetic engineering is to perfect the human body. This can be done through manipulating the genes. One method is to trade a bad gene for a good one on the cellular level. The scientific term for this method which doesn’t include the sex determinant cell is somatic cell therapy. This is done when fully functioning genes are fired into the human body to remove the badly functioning inferior gene. Problem with this method is that it isn’t perfected hence a high failure rate.
Genetic engineering carries many benefits one of them being the elimination of disease; we won’t get sick anymore! In light of my many medical problems most of them age related this technology couldn’t have came at a better time. Geneticists could change the way genomes are constructed to end many diseases. As this new offshoot of Mendel’s Genetics progresses in time all disease could be eradicated; oh happy day!
With the eradication of disease human life spans would increase dramatically. Your beloved writer is rapidly approaching the big Seven O’ or as I like to call it ‘the 9th inning.’ Soon I’ll be standing small before the Man. Me personally I’d love to play a ‘double header’ with 70 more years tacked to my ‘lineup card’ if and when human genome engineering can include me.
A third benefit of DNA restructuring is that unborn children could be protected from all forms of sickness. Having a genetic screening of the human fetus can lead to treatment for the unborn.
With every benefit there comes a liability the science of genetics DNA technology no exception. Two of the primary moral issues around genome engineering are many people are opposed to this new idea on ethical grounds. They argue that the power to refashion humanity is God’s province alone. Reader I’ll tell you what God told me in prayer: “Go for it, son!”
Then there’s the issue of safety; human genetic engineering is on thin ice; its’ dangerous! Releasing genes in the human body is risky enough let alone having something go horribly wrong. You don’t want a kid looking like Godzilla because some lab-jockey screwed-up. We don’t want a master race (Think: Adolf Hitler.) to dominate the human race but to advance humankind to new levels of achievement and perfection. Me personally I’d love to pig-out and not gain weight, walk and run not hobble and stumble, I also would like to write like James A. Michener and paint like Fernando Armorsolo and or Caravaggio; the great ones! Gene therapy could do the trick.
For more on this vital topic go to: ‘5 key Pros and Cons of Human Genetic Engineering’ Crystal Lombardo, ‘Pros and Cons of Human Genetic Engineering,’ ‘Cracking the Code of the Human Genome’ and www.Smithsonian.com. Ms. Heather Dewy-Hagborg a transdisciplinary artist lives here in Chicago, Illinois. She teaches art and technology studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her interests lie in art, technology, multimedia, digital photography, artificial intelligence, research-based art and programming, computer science and the lady’s a doctoral student at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. If you want to know more about this remarkable person go to her website at: www.deweyhagborg.com; peace and all things good!