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

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

The Art of Science: Caleb Charland Experiments with Photography


Caleb Charland’s photos explore many aspects of physics and chemistry to stunning effect – all without the use of photoshop. He uses a number of elaborate but essentially old-school techniques, including scanning and multiple exposures, to create his amazing images. One of my favorites is this relatively simple photo, Helix with Matchsticks, a DNA-style double helix engulfed in flame. Besides the obvious connection of the flames and life-force, could it allude to the fiery conflicts over evolution?

Charland, who is based in Maine, has recently been working on creating “photos” without a camera – using a burning candle to expose, and drip on, photographic paper. Before that, he used images to demonstrate unusual power sources, like using an orange to run a light bulb for 14 hours. He described his work in 2010 as being “like 5th grade science mixed with sculpture. It’s about being curious and playful. There is still a lot to wonder about.” (source)

You can see many more images at  Charland’s website.

The Art of Science: Fruit of Knowledge

Charlotte Jarvis’ Blighted by Kenning is a unique cross-disciplinary art project that draws upon nature and biblical symbolism as well as cutting-edge science. As she describes it:

The project has bio-engineered a bacteria which has the Universal Declaration of Human Rights encoded into its DNA sequence. The DNA has been extracted and apples grown near The Hague, which houses the International Court of Justice, have been ‘contaminated’ with the synthetic DNA. They are currently being sent to genomics laboratories around the world, which have been asked to sequence the declaration and also to eat the fruit. Continue reading “The Art of Science: Fruit of Knowledge”

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