The Art of Science: A Machine that Vends DNA Samples Like Candy Bars

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Gabe Baria-Colombo, DNA Vending Machine, 2013

Gabe Barcia-Colombo’ s DNA Vending Machine is an art installation blending the utterly mundane (a fairly primitive machine dispensing mostly crappy snack food) with the cutting-edge (DIY human genetics) to intriguing effect.

Barcia-Colombo, a 2012 TED fellow, collected DNA samples from a bunch of his friends using a basic swish-and-spit method. With the help of Oliver Medvedik of GenSpace, a community biotech lab in New York, he synthesized the samples in a liquid base.  Barcia-Colombo then created a pack-of-cards sized case for the vials and loaded them into a vending machine.

As the picture above indicates, the only labeling on the vials is a number.  Barcia-Colombo compares this to the concept of “blind box” collectible toys – sealed limited edition collectible figurines packaged randomly with many variations. As with human genetics, people have limited information on which to base their choices, and much depends on luck.

Each sample comes packaged with a collectable portrait of the human specimen as well as a unique link to a custom DNA extraction video. The DNA Vending Machine treats human DNA as a collectible material, exploring the question of who owns our DNA.  Can the person who bought a stranger’s DNA from a vending machine get it sequenced or potentially use it in other ways?

The DNA Vending Machine has been shown in several galleries, and the artist reports that many people have indeed bought the DNA samples. No word on what they’ve done with them – yet.

hat tip: DesignBoom

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