Thursday, May 22, 2014

Malus ecclesia

Joe Davis is a research affiliate in the Department of Biology at MIT and in the George Church Laboratory at Harvard Medical School. His research and art includes work in the fields of molecular biology, bioinformatics, "space art", and sculpture, using media including but not limited to centrifuges, radios, prosthetics, magnetic fields, and genetic material. (Wikipedia)

Davis' works include a project in which he encoded a 60-character fragment of a Greek text by Heraclitus into the white-eye gene of a fruit fly and now the bio artist wants to create his own version of the tree of knowledge - using Wikipedia. He has devised a mathematical formula to add layers of data to DNA.

He now plans to add a decoded version of the online encyclopedia into the DNA of a 4,000-year-old strain of apple, which he claims is the closest he could get to fruit from the biblical tale and he dubbed the project Malus ecclesia (Malus, the genus name for all apples, means both “bad, evil” and “apple tree” in Latin. Ecclesia translates to “church”—an homage to George Church.).

Due to the size of Wikipedia, Davis and his team chose to decode only the top 50,000 pages of the online encyclopedia, which make up 50 per cent of the most visited pages across the site. The amount of data equates to around 350MB. Once coded, the letters can be assembled into biologically viable, functional strands of DNA. To get the DNA into the apple, Davis will use a type of bacteria uniquely evolved to insert its genome through plant cell walls. The bacteria will be tricked into putting the DNA-encoded Wikipedia into apple saplings, which are then grafted onto apple stock and allowed to grow into adult trees. Because the changes to the fruit are biologically inert, the final apples will look like normal apples hanging from normal apple trees.

Well, that's a form of art I had never thought of and I have no doubt that it is technically possible to create such an apple. After all transfection methods are around for quite some time already. I just fail to see its significance but hey, its art, what can I say? 

The engineered apple, when complete, will be twice forbidden. It is not only the forbidden fruit in the biblical sense but also in the secular world because the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has strict rules against the unregulated eating of genetically altered plants. I am sure the opponents of GMO won't approve of this work of art.

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