Slovenian bioartist Maja Smrekar modified the genome of yeast with a part of her own DNA. This synthetic gene codes for the production of lactic acid, one of the most common food additives. The lactic acid was used to create “Maya YogHurt“, a fermented drink that was sampled by visitors to the Kapelica Gallery in Slovenia.
In a series of works entitled Human Molecular Colonization Capacity (Hu.M.C.C.) Smrekar explored the possibilities that our own enzymes might hold as a natural resources. She claims that our body is one of the few “uncolonized biotechnological materials” and could become a “trade tool” based on a system of genetic credit.
Through cigarette butts and strands of loose hair, we constantly and carelessly discard our genetic material. One New York-based artist, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, used these random traces left behind by unsuspecting strangers to make sculptures of what their owners might look like.
In her Stranger Visions series, Dewey-Hagborg created physical models using DNA facial modeling software and a 3D printer. The masks reflect eye color, geographical roots, sex, and other traits, but not exact facial features because forensic phenotyping can’t yet fill in all the details. Stranger Visions calls attention to the potential for a culture of “genetic surveillance” made possible by inexpensive $1,000 DNA sequencers. “As a society,” says Dewey-Hagborg, ”we need to have a discussion about that.”
Soon, our entire genome may be accessible to strangers within minutes, with fears of cloning or genetic hacking to go along with it. It’s unsettling to think that our DNA, and therefore our identities, are not as precious as we think they are.
In the movie Fantastic Voyage, a submarine and its crew were shrunk and injected into the body of a sick man in an attempt to save his life. Despite the fictional nature of this story, in the near future miniaturized, organic “computers” may roam our bodies, detecting early-stage diseases and treating them on the spot. There are already 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells in our bodies – so why not add a few more?