You III by Colin Rose. Photographed at the Wellcome Genome Campus, 2017.

You III by Colin Rose. Photographed at the Wellcome Genome Campus, 2017.

Genetopia

Today we have greater abilities to understand and edit the human genome than ever before; we can eradicate ‘flaws’ and abnormalities. We can repurpose DNA for the encoding and extraction of information since DNA is – after all – nature’s hard drive, able to store information through the history of an entire species.

But with this growing knowledge and ability comes a deluge of questions that have the potential to affect us all. What should we eradicate? What should we keep? Who gets to decide how far we should go when it comes to designing the species? How will offsetting illness and pre-selecting against genetic conditions affect insurance, healthcare, culture, education, legislation? And, perhaps more importantly, how do we even have these conversations that have families and identity at their very core?

Genetopia is a research-led documentary project that combines personal stories and scientific imaging to engage with these questions and present some of the ways in which we are already answering them on an individual basis. Its aim is to stimulate further conversation, debate, and research, and to highlight the complexity of the issues at hand.

Research for Genetopia began in January 2017 in collaboration with the Antonella Riccio Laboratory MRC LMCB, UCL, and Dr. Anna Middleton, Head of Society and Ethics Research at the Sanger Institute, Wellcome Genome Campus.

Genetopia at London College of Communication, 2017 MA degree show.

Genetopia at London College of Communication, 2017 MA degree show.

In 2017 I interviewed, photographed, and worked alongside 20 portrait participants to curate the stories of their engagement with their genes. These stories attempt to reflect some of the breadth of current interest in DNA, as well as to humanise the science. They include stories of paternity testing, consumer genetic testing, unexpected discoveries, and health. Their stories feature in the book (pictured above.) 

In 2017 I interviewed, photographed, and worked alongside 20 portrait participants to curate the stories of their engagement with their genes. These stories attempt to reflect some of the breadth of current interest in DNA, as well as to humanise the science. They include stories of paternity testing, consumer genetic testing, unexpected discoveries, and health. Their stories feature in the book (pictured above.) 

When it isn’t dividing, a cell’s DNA genome is not packed up into the neat, X-shaped chromosomes that most people are familiar with. Instead, the genome is found in the nucleus as a chaotic, yet ordered, tangle of DNA strands – like a bowl full of ramen. Within these strands of DNA are the DNA sequences that encode genes, and whether a given gene is active or inactive in a cell can depend on its location within the nucleus. Using DNA Fluorescence In Situ Hybridisation (DNA-FISH) we can visualise the location of genes within the nucleus and learn about how that gene’s activity is being controlled. In our DNA-FISH images the whole nucleus’s DNA contents are stained with a general DNA dye, shown in blue, and the two fluorescent dots from the DNA-FISH technique appear in green. Some cells also have a fluorescent green colour in their cytoplasm surrounding the nucleus. This is because we have caused the cells to produce a protein called Green Fluorescent Protein, and this fluorescence helps us see the overall shape of the cell within the bounds of its membrane." Text: Sarah French, UCL PhD candidate Sculpture: Chrystal Ding DNA-FISH experiments performed and imaged by Cristina Policarpi, Antonella Riccio Laboratory at MRC LMCB, UCL

When it isn’t dividing, a cell’s DNA genome is not packed up into the neat, X-shaped chromosomes that most people are familiar with. Instead, the genome is found in the nucleus as a chaotic, yet ordered, tangle of DNA strands – like a bowl full of ramen.

Within these strands of DNA are the DNA sequences that encode genes, and whether a given gene is active or inactive in a cell can depend on its location within the nucleus. Using DNA Fluorescence In Situ Hybridisation (DNA-FISH) we can visualise the location of genes within the nucleus and learn about how that gene’s activity is being controlled.

In our DNA-FISH images the whole nucleus’s DNA contents are stained with a general DNA dye, shown in blue, and the two fluorescent dots from the DNA-FISH technique appear in green. Some cells also have a fluorescent green colour in their cytoplasm surrounding the nucleus. This is because we have caused the cells to produce a protein called Green Fluorescent Protein, and this fluorescence helps us see the overall shape of the cell within the bounds of its membrane."

Text: Sarah French, UCL PhD candidate

Sculpture: Chrystal Ding

DNA-FISH experiments performed and imaged by Cristina Policarpi, Antonella Riccio Laboratory at MRC LMCB, UCL