The art of DNA

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The Crow’s Nest

November 9, 2011

By Sabrina Aldridge

Miami artist Xavier Cortada and Kalai Mathee of Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine spoke at the third Festival of the Genome event, “Sequentia: Art and Science Together,” at the Nelson Poynter Memorial library on Nov. 3. Mathee called the 100 trillion cells which make up the building blocks of the human the “magic of life.” Mathee is associate professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Florida International University. “If you take and stretch just one cell end-to-end it will stretch to be six feet long,” she said. Cortada was inspired to “bring a molecular vision to life” so he teamed up with Mathee to create an art piece of a DNA molecule. Cortada first sketched the image of DNA with charcoal and cut it into 400 pieces. “Four hundred participants each received a postcard, and by touching this postcard they gave over their DNA in exchange for one of the 400 cut-up pieces,” he said. They then assembled them along a wall, to create a visual of DNA. Cortada and Mathee were then able to sequence the participant’s DNA. Cortada called Sequentia “a collaborative engagement of art.” He announced plans to deliver an art piece at USFSP. With the help of graphic design students Mallory Moyer and Kristine Richardson, they will create Sequentia III: A USFSP event. They will conduct “a collaborative engagement of art to figure out what sequence the 400 members generate,” he said. The art experiment will run from Nov. 14 to Nov. 19. In another piece of art, “The Four Nucleotides,” Cortada created portraits of the four bases of DNA—adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. “These bases make up all we are, have been and will ever be,” he said. “The art exhibit was created to make you think and act.” Cortada said he wanted to “change the way we see ourselves via DNA.” Mathee described Cortada’s art looking at “what it means for evolution and life, in an artistic way.” Demetrios Kiriopoulos, a senior bio medical science major said the event was “intellectually enhancing.” Dr. Leon Hardy, professor of physics, mathematics, and statistics, said this century is an exciting time to be alive. “It’s going to be the century of biology,” he said. The next Genome event, “Finding the Human in the Genome,” will take place Thursday, Nov 10. The reception is at 6 p.m., with the lecture at 7 p.m. in the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library.