Personalised DNA Scarves

I wrote for VICE’s technology website The Creators Project about the launch of an amazing British startup creating textiles based on your own DNA profile:

Wear the Perfect Genes with Personalized DNA Scarves

Ever wanted someone to weave you a scarf based on your swab sample? It might not be on your Christmas wishlist just yet, but this unusual gift is designed to open up the conversation around art, technology, and DNA profiling.

Female entrepreneur Iona Inglesby, 26, came up with the idea for Dot One while studying at the Royal College of Art in London. She was fascinated by the idea of family tartans and using material to represent identity, but felt that the designs she saw had no inherent value that made them relevant to individuals. She saw DNA profiling as a way to create entirely unique designs, rather like unique codes, and initially experimented with DNA personalized tartan for her own family.

Fast forward to 2015 and Inglesby has just launched a line of bright textiles and prints based on DNA profiles. Apparently we share 50% of our genetic makeup with bananas, 80% with orangutans, and 99.9% with all eight billion humans on earth. So this narrow sliver of 0.1% of our deoxyribonucleic acid is all that marks us out as different.

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The results add a customizable layer to the art scarf game, a field previously pioneered by Philip Stearns’ glitch art scarves and Slow Factory’s NASA photo silk prints. Using the same testing methods as those used for paternity tests and forensic identification, Dot One sends you a kit in the post to take a swab from the inside of your cheek. Data from your sample is used to make your personalized design in the form of a scarf or print (with plans for a wider range in future). Inglesby tells The Creators Project, “A DNA profile is made up of examining 23 locations on your chromosomes. Using an algorithm we created, we translate the raw figures into colour and pattern which visually represents your genetic data.” Families can also jointly submit their DNA profiles to commission a family tree which maps gene inheritance from one generation to the next.

Using her background in design to bring this to life, Inglesby hopes to make science more accessible to the general public and to stimulate conversation and debate around genetics. “Many people negatively associate DNA testing with clones and designer babies, but there is so much incredible research going on which actually empowers us as humans and will radically change our healthcare,” Inglesby argues.

Dot One is one of a raft of startups helping people to better understand their bodies, such as 23andme, which was the first to popularize direct-to-consumer DNA testing, back in 2006. Many technology companies are beginning to make breakthroughs, creating products that help the general public decode the language that their cells are built with.

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The Dot One range was also inspired by coding, but not the sort we know today: it was in part a result of a trip to Bletchley Park near London (home of the Enigma machine) and a synthetic biology workshop. Inglesby spotted a connection between the two, and a connection with weaving: “The teleprinter code at Bletchley was almost identical to weaving punchcards I’d seen—a binary system like all computers. Even DNA is being experimented with as a storage device for binary data, but with ATCGs instead of 0s and 1s. Theoretically you could fit all the world’s binary data in the amount of DNA to fill up a teaspoon!”

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You can see the article on the Creators Project website here.

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