Possibilities for genomic selection purely based on aesthetic principles

The computational aspect inherent to the analysis of sequenced genomes from different species allows for the application of creative coding to genome browsers, DNA and protein sequences as raw material for the composition of digital art. I’ve recently conceptualized and coined this emergent new form of art as GAGAISM, from Geometric And Genomic Abstraction-ISM (GAGAISMO or Arte GAGAISTA in Spanish) during my past two artists-in-residence opportunities at

(a) Laboratory of Computerized Languages, Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of the Republic of Uruguay

(b) GEN Center for the Arts & Sciences, Montevideo

These two experiences gave me the opportunity to apply artistic forms of expression and integrate them with science concepts from the field of plant genomics. Similarly, I’ve previously approximated agronomy through art by creating a work that visually explored the concept of ‘sustainable intensification’ during an artist-in-residence opportunity at

(c) National Institute of Agriculture of Uruguay

These manifestations were clear and concrete examples of early attempts into the integration of art with science that promptly followed my first thoughts written on the topic.

It is my intention to continue working at the intersection of art and science in order to extend and solidify GAGAISMO. By focusing on the intersection of genomics and art I will be able to apply as well as develop novel aesthetic, discursive and materialistic approaches to current research works within the field. My aim is to foster intense artistic and scientific exchanges that can lead to a better understanding and appreciation of genomics by the general public, bringing science closer to society through art.

Interesting questions to explore are: (1) can we build the artistic character of genes and genomes? If so, (2) can genomics be guided on the basis of aesthetic principles? And (3) does the building of new genomes with aesthetic purposes resonate more with society than merely a scientific and applied research agenda?

There are three concrete aspects where I would like to focus my attention to:

1 Can we build the artistic character of genes and genomes?

It is interesting to note that scientists interact with the visual representation of genes and genomes embedded on genome browsers. When designing genes and gene fragments de novo as part of their experiments, scientists unconsciously ‘accept’ this visual representation already displayed on genome browsers (for instance rectangles for exons and lines for introns). I want to explore the visual elements used by scientists while ‘thinking’ and ‘sketching’ their futures experiments and create generative collages based on drawings from their laboratory notebooks. What would be the alternative visual representations of genes other than rectangles and lines that would enhance the construction and design of new genes and genome fragments while performing research on molecular genetics, genomics and synthetic biology? Interactive artworks containing novel visual representation of genes linking to their gene sequences of interest will also be interesting to create.

2 Can genome biology be guided on the basis of aesthetic principles?

I am interested in exploring the concept of ‘aesthetically guided genomic selection’ of biochemical pathways. By creating artworks that visually portrait specific genes along a pathway with each artwork displaying polymorphic variants of those genes from other strains or species, I will ask scientists to select the most engaging artworks to guide their synthesis of novel biochemical pathways. For example, what would be like to synthetically construct a novel fermentation pathway in bacteria or a photoperiodic pathway in plants purely based on the aesthetic characteristics of gene variants from different strains and species? Several artworks in static form can be produced using this concept as guiding principle.

3 Does the building of new genomes with aesthetic purposes as artistic activity resonate more with society than merely a scientific and applied research agenda?

I will conduct a survey asking non-scientists for their opinions about genome biology as ‘genomic art’ opposed to ‘applied research for merely industrial, agronomic or biomedical purposes’. The results of the survey can be used as data to create artworks. A separate survey can be conducted in the form of responsive art, that is, art that responds to the voice of the interviewed person when asked about genome biology. The same responsive art can be used to ask scientists about genome biology and the different visual representations for each artwork can be shown side by side.

As result, this work can be a springboard for production of static, interactive and responsive art, as well as for discursive writing in forms of essays.