What’s hanging on the walls of your bedroom? Maybe you’ve got loads of posters of your favorite celebs like Ryan Phillippe or Bionce. Or perhaps you’re a die-hard sports fan and you’ve plastered pictures of the hottest sports team over every inch of your room.

Well what ever kind of artwork is on your walls, your tastes can say a lot about who you are. But there’s a new type of artwork out there that’s even more personal than that and it comes right out of Canada’s capital of Ottawa, Ontario.

Adrian Salamunovic and Nazim Ahmed are the co-founders of DNA11, a company that creates abstract art from DNA samples. The cool thing about these images is that no two are the same, and that each one is individual to its owner. Why’s that? Because each piece is made from the owner’s own DNA! But to really understand why this art is so unique, we have to know a thing or two about DNA first.

DNA (a.k.a. deoxyribonucleic acid) is shaped like a spiral staircase, known as a double helix. It is made up of two backbones (the handrails of the staircase) which are connected by pairs of molecules called nucleotides or bases (forming the steps of the ladder).

There are only four bases that make up DNA: adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine. The way these bases pair is highly controlled. Adenine (A) will always pair with thymine (T), and cytosine (C) will always pair with guanine (G).

It probably seems like with only four bases, it would be impossible for everyone to be unique. But when you think about the number of these bases in your whole genome (the sum total of your DNA), it starts to make sense.

With over 3 billion base pairs in the human genome, the number of possible combinations that these bases can form along the entire length of the genome becomes huge! In fact, there are over 4 million possible combinations! So, you can see that it’s basically impossible to have the exact same sequence as somebody else.

Did You Know?
Genomically speaking, all races are equal. That is to say, you can’t tell simply by looking at someone’s DNA whether they are black or white Less than 2% of the genome is made up of genes. These genes are essentially identical in all humans but there are tiny differences that make everybody look different.

But, over a third of your genome is made up of stretches of DNA that do not code for anything. It is in these sections of DNA where people really differ, and that’s why the guys at DNA11 can make you a personalized piece of art from your DNA.

So how does DNA get transformed from the saliva sample you send to the guys at DNA11 to the image you can hang on your wall? First the DNA is extracted from the sample. About 1 nanogram (that’s one millionth of a gram!) is collected and then a process called PCR, polymerase chain reaction, is used to amplify specific sequences (i.e., order of the bases) of DNA to make thousands of copies of it.

Did You Know?
DNA amplification with PCR allows DNA analysis on biological samples as small as a few skin cells This DNA is then separated based on size using a technique called gel electrophoresis. In gel electrophoresis, the amplified DNA is loaded into a rectangular gel (made of a Jello-like material), and the gel is immersed in a liquid-filled plastic container. The two ends of this container are attached to a source of electricity.

Because DNA is negatively charged, when an electric charge is run through the gel, the pieces of DNA migrate through the gel towards the positively charged end. Everybody will have different sizes and amounts of the amplified pieces of DNA. The smallest pieces go further down the gel than the larger pieces, creating a separation between the pieces of DNA.

Did You Know?
DNA is used to identify potential suspects by matching DNA evidence left at crime scenes The result, when magnified, is a piece of DNA11 artwork that is unique to you. Who knew science could be so beautiful?! To find out more about how you can get your very own personalized DNA art, check out the DNA11 website at: www.dna11.com.

Learn More!

Genes VI, Benjamin Lewin, Oxford University Press, 1997

Biology Fifth Edition; Campbell N.A., Reece J.B., Mitchell L.G.; Benjamin Cummings, 1999

DNA from the beginning


Genome science

Allyson did her B.Sc. in Genetics at the University of Western Ontario (UWO), and is currently working on her Master's in Physiology, also at UWO. Her work focuses on spinal cord injury and scar formation, and how to make the cells that make up that scar (astrocytes) more hospitable to nerve regeneration. Allyson is also learning whitewater kayaking, although most of her time is currently spent underwater and inhaling a lot of water at the moment.

Allyson Tighe

I completed my BSc and MSc at The University of Western Ontario, and am now a scientific writer and editorial assistant in Toronto. I am an expert risotto maker, a decidedly non-expert runner, and a WeatherNetwork junkie.

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