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DNA-based Art

In a new art project that is likely to stir up queezy worries that a Gattaca-like science fiction future is swiftly becoming reality, a New York artist has been plucking up bits of DNA from strangers on city streets and creating 3-D printed images of what their faces might look like.

Smithsonian covers the art of Heather Dewey-Hagborg, an electronic arts PhD student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who has been snagging up bits of hair, chewing gum, pieces of fingernails, and cigarette butts left behind by unknown people

Dewey-Hagborg, who received some training in DNA extraction using PCR from the Brooklyn do-it-yourself molecular biology lab Genspace, has been putting together a series of these 3-D printed faces called Stranger Visions.

She then has the samples sequenced and analyzed for certain SNPs, and then plugs information from around 400 base pairs into a computer program she wrote that allows her to generate a mask-like portrait. These visages should be rough approximations of the individual who unknowingly left the sample behind, based on the SNPs for certain traits that she found.

"For example gender, ancestry, eye color, hair color, freckles, lighter or darker skin, and certain facial features like nose width and distance between eyes are some of the features I am in the process of studying," she says.

She also can add some finishing touches and then uses a Zcorp printer that spits out the 3-D image in full color.