In November 2018 The Accessible Genetics Consortium (TAGC) curated an exhibition as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science. The exhibition was extremely well received. Should you have any questions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
I Am a Product of My Everything
The piece uses acrylic paint on 16×20 inch canvas and depicts Gregor Mendel (a monk who discovered the basic principles of heredity through his experiments on pea plants), with plants and DNA helixes coming out of the top of his head. This represents how we are a complex product of the interaction between our genes (DNA helixes) and our environments (the plants).
For some time, there has been a debate of whether our nature or nurture influences our behaviour and traits, however we now know that the two work together in complex ways, and almost everything about us is the product of both nature and nurture.
That Lived in Feel
Our physical attributes, our qualities, and our tendencies are the result of a complex give-and-take relationship between our inherited genes and our environments.
These quilts consider used denim (taken from the designer, her friend, and her mother) as a material that embodies both inheritance and chance. Associated with working-class Canadiana, it is both the ‘given’ (what we are born with or born into) and the malleable that changes with day-to-day use. Creating the quilts involves forcing fabric that has become inconsistent and stretched with wear into a plan that, while drawing attention to points of interest, flattens it and removes it from its context.
Invoking personal themes of identity and legacy alongside ideas of structure versus chance and probability, these pieces serve as a response to the intertwined factors that influence our understanding of who we are.
Knitted DNA Helix
DNA is found in every cell of every living organism. It carries the information that guides development. This information is stored in a language of 4 letters A (Adenine), T (Thymine), C (Cytosine) and G (Guanine), represented here by 4 different colours of wool.
Approximately 2% of human DNA falls within genes and is involved directly in the production of proteins. The remaining 98% has many other functions including the regulation and activation of genes. One method for this regulation is the application of methyl to either stop or attenuate gene expression. In this exhibition methyl is represented by yellow pom-poms. Methylation is one of the fundamental processes of epigenetics and can be affected by the environment as well as other genes.
Materials: Wool and wire
Mendel and More
Gregor Mendel (see: I am a product of my everything) discovered the way in which information is passed from parent to offspring. A child inherits information from both their mother and their father. In many cases, one set of information dominates over the other and leads to a trait being expressed. Rarer traits, known as recessive, are only expressed when a child inherits instructions for that trait from both parents.
This exhibition consists of three parts as well as the butterflies scattered throughout the gallery.
A Punnett Square #1
Used to demonstrate the ratio of offspring that show dominant and receive traits. In this case, only one gene is associated with the trait; wing shape. The parents, represented on the sides of the grid, have rounded wings, but are carriers of pointed wings. On average, three of their off spring will have rounded wings (of which two will carry pointed wings) and one has pointed wings.
A Punnett Square #2
Here we see a trait (wing colour) that is influenced by two genes. When two genes are involved there are 4 possible trait variations (phenotypes). In this case: Yellow, Pink, Light Blue and Purple, in the ratio 9:3:3:1. With two genes involved there are 10 different genetic combinations (genotypes).
The Eyes have it
The best current estimate is that human eye colour is influenced by at least 16 genes. This results in 43,046,721 different genotypes. As can be seen in this photo exhibition, eye colour is extremely varied. The images also demonstrate that human characteristics are extremely varied, and genes have an influence to play in these too.
Humans have always been fascinated by prediction. Be this through arcane methods such as the tarot and horoscopes or the pseudoscientific ideas of phrenology – that character traits can be predicted by feeling bumps on the head.
Genomic sequencing, using gene chips, allows for prediction of individual differences in all sorts of traits, both physical and psychological, but only with a degree of probability.
From Oedipus and Macbeth we know how dangerous predictions can be, especially when not fully understood and treated as immutable. This is the same for genetic prediction. For each of us, knowing more about genetics will become increasingly important as we progress further into the genomic era, where genetic prediction may become part of our everyday lives.
The Language of Life
The human genome consists of roughly 3 billion base pairs. We share approximately 50% of our DNA with a banana and more than 98% with chimpanzees.
The open book represents 1% of the human genome – 30,000,000 base pairs. The remaining 99 books are represented on the shelves below. Although all humans are more than 99% genetically identical, there is still a lot of opportunity for variation.
If you were to read the human genome aloud at a rate of one base pair per second, it would take just over 97 years to finish.
Gene environment interactions
The effects of genes do not exist in a vacuum, they interact and relate to the environment. For example, a person with genetic predispositions for perfect pitch and rhythm will never become a concert pianist if they never have access to a piano.
Measuring genetic influences is extremely complex, measuring environmental influences is no less so. Studying how genes and environments interact is arguably even more difficult.
In this interactive exhibition the ink represents genetic influences, the umbrellas represent the environment.