Day 103: The DNA vending machine! Coming to a future near you!

Imagine a DNA vending machine where you the lucky consumer, can purchase a collectable DNA sample.  Each sample comes packaged with a collectable limited edition portrait of the human specimen.  Sounds like stuff of futurist sci-fi movies right? Not for artist Gabe Barcia-Colombo who gave a Ted talk showcasing his art installation the DNA vending machine.

The DNA vending Machine
What leads an artist to create a DNA Vending machine? For Gabe it was his fascination by the discovery of a community biolab in New York called Genspace. Genspace was a place open to the public were classes were held on topics such as extracting strawberry DNA.  Gabe took this class and found the beauty in strawberry DNA. This led him down the path of extracting human DNA. He was hooked to the point were he would hold DNA extracting parties amongst his friends on Friday nights.  Gabe would ultimately create an art installation called the DNA vending machine.

Why this needs to be talked about

The idea behind the installation was to get the discussion happening about accessibility to biotechnology and DNA sequencing.  Right now, as I write this in 2014, DNA vending machine seems absurd and unlikely in today’s world. But, and there is a big but, will the idea of DNA vending machine’s be the norm in 50, 100, 200 years from now? That’s what scares me. I feel that we are at this pivotal moment in time were ethics should really be standing front and centre and putting the hard questions out there.

It comes down to ownership of DNA and privacy. Does a person have a right to their own DNA and should it be commercialised? Is a person’s discarded tissue and cells still private property or can it be commercialised? What about the case of Henrietta Lacks who had healthy tissue extracted from her during surgery and used for medical research? What that unethical or ethical when looked upon through a big picture view?

What do you think about genetical material and ownership? Add your voice to the conversation in the comment box below.

Vanessa Rose