If Your DNA Were a Scarf, This is What It'd Look Like...
When it comes down to it, humans are remarkably similar to each other. From the outside you wouldn’t guess it—I have blue eyes, you have brown, your neighbor has green—but thanks to the Human Genome Project, we know that all humans share approximately 99.9 percent of their DNA in common. That leaves .1 percent of the genetic code to distinguish you from everyone else.
If you were to create a data visualization of individual human genomes, it wouldn’t be particularly interesting. Yours would probably look a lot like mine. But drill down a little deeper, and that .1 percent of your genetic code is a treasure trove of information that can be turned into a very cool visualization.
Iona Inglesby is a designer from London, who has created a company that highlights those genetic differences. Called Dot One (a reference to the .1 percent of our genetic code that’s unique), the company takes information from a cheek swab and turns it into glitchy representations of a human’s DNA on scarves, posters, and family trees.
Unlike 23AndMe, Dot One’s DNA analysis doesn’t tell you much about how you’re genetically unique, just that you aregenetically unique. Ingelsby’s team outsources its DNA profiling to a genetic testing lab called AlphaBiolabs. There, lab techs scan submitted DNA samples for stretches of genetic code called Short Tandem Repeats, or STRs. These are regions of genetic code that vary in a specific way from person to person. (The unique variability of STRs makes them useful in forensic cases and paternity testing—instances when it’s important to know that the DNA you’re analyzing belongs to one person, specifically.) Collect enough STRs and you can create a genetic fingerprint; the odds of you sharing 13 STR regions in common with any other person, for example, is estimated to be about one in 1-billion. AlphaBiolabs examines 23 STRs from each genetic sequence that it analyzes, to create a fingerprint it claims can distinguish any individual from everyone else on Earth.
Once AlphaBiolabs is through profiling your DNA, Dot One gives every STR in your genetic fingerprint a numerical value, based on its molecular characteristics. Finally, each numerical value is assigned a color, which is determined by Ingelsby. “It’s basically color matching,” she says. The patterns that those colors make in the final product, she explains, allude to ones you’re liable to observe in a lab where DNA work is performed. “When you do DNA profiling, they run your sample through a gel and it creates a quite geometric, linear pattern,” she says. “The prints are reflective of the process itself.” For her part, Inglesby says the products are an attempt to demystify the science behind genetics. And indeed, it’s a cleverly aesthetic way to translate an otherwise arcane data set. “What I want to do in my work is take data that’s quite sterile and make something that people can relate to in a way that’s really personal,” she says.