[-empyre-] Duration: Thanks to Week 3 Guests and Heading into Week 4

Josh Strable jjs369 at cornell.edu
Fri Nov 30 10:44:21 AEDT 2018

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Thank you for the invitation and opportunity to contribute to -empyre- soft-skinned space, and Tim, for the generous introductions.

We were motivated by the theme for the 2018 Cornell Council for the Arts Biennial — Duration: Passage, Persistence, Survival — to explore inarguably one of the most durable storage mediums on Earth: deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, the molecule that organizes and manages the blueprints of life, for life.

DNA is comprised of 4 nucleotides (adenine [A], thymine [T], guanine [G] and cytosine [C]) that form polymer chains.  Individual, polymerized chains are able to form bonds with itself or with other complementary chains, i.e., to self-assemble molecularly, ultimately to form the double helical structure realized in the early 1950s  by R. Franklin, F. Crick and J. Watson.  This self-assembling, or hybridization, pairs A with T and G with C, forming the “inner rungs” of the double helix.  These expansive chains of DNA, constructed of this simple 4 letter alphabet, are arranged in vastly varied configurations — governed by a base-4 quaternary code, combinatorial uniqueness in DNA scales by 4^n, where n is the number of bases within each sequence.  For example, a sequence of 10 nucleotides would have 4^10 or greater than 1 million combinations of A/T/G/C.  The nuclear genome of a single human cell houses ~6.4 billion nucleotides divvied up among 23 pairs of linear DNA molecules called chromosomes.  The human body has ~10 trillion cells; within each cell resides nearly 1.8 meters of DNA, which means each human has about 16 billion kilometers of DNA stored in them.  Furthermore, DNA is far from static (though it is negatively charged), as nucleotides in a genome are continually being inserted, deleted, rearranged and modified, which over evolutionary time allows Persistence and Survival via mutation.  To say the least, DNA is an inexhaustible, evolvable medium.

As a medium of archive, DNA retains information about the genome for thousands to millions of years.  Ancient DNA recovered from ancient specimens offers sufficient preservation to be read in bacterial hosts, a true and elegant testament to its Duration:.  With current sequencing technologies and their reduced costs, the ability to interpret nearly any genome, modern or ancient, has become commonplace.  By interpreting the genome, by essentially digging through genetic archives, we gain knowledge about the deep past, migration, adaptation, ecosystems, disease, and we are provided templates for strategizing cures and adaptabilities to a changing climate.

For the Biennial, our genome-inspired light installation, ATGC, depicted a nucleotide-by-nucleotide “walk” through genomic sequence of 24 globally representative human populations.  Each nucleotide was represented by a different color of LED light (A, red; T, green; G, white; C, blue), and each LED light represented a different genome.  The lights blinked in syncopation until genomic variation in an individual genomic variant was encountered.  Nucleotide variation in a population resulted in a brief pause in syncopated sequence of blinking lights.  We had no control over when or if variation was detected in the genome; we simply wrote a code to decipher these genomes.  It was clear, however, by observing the installation, human populations are extremely similar at the genomic level, despite how appearance, expression, etc across individuals, cultures, populations may differ.  Might we then think of the genome as Cagean, in which heredity content is indeterminate and contingent upon chance?

Josh Strable, Kate Greder, Yasir Ahmed-Braimah & Juan Felipe Beltrán

On Tue, Nov 27, 2018 at 1:42 PM Timothy Conway Murray <tcm1 at cornell.edu<mailto:tcm1 at cornell.edu>> wrote:
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Josh Strable (US)
Josh Strable is an NSF-NPGI Postdoctoral Fellow in the Plant Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University.  His research identifies and characterizes genes and genetic networks that underlie leaf and floral development in the grasses, as well as understanding the genetic basis of how environmental stress influences plant growth and development.  Josh earned his Ph.D. in Plant Biology from Iowa State University and holds a M.S. and B.S. in Biology from the University of Iowa.

Kate Greder (US)
Kate Greder is a PhD student in the Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design, at Cornell University.  Her research focuses on spatialization in the fashion system and the subsequent onto-epistemological questions that emerge within design theory.  Prior to Cornell, she worked in art conservation at Iowa State University and she holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Yasir Ahmed-Braimah (US)
Yasir Ahmed-Braimah is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Cornell. His research utilizes various approaches to understand classical evolutionary genetics problems, such as adaptation and speciation. Yasir earned his PhD in Biology from the University of Rochester, and holds an M.S. and B.S. in Biology from the University of Iowa.

Juan Felipe Beltrán (US/Colombia)
Juan Felipe Beltrán is a Colombian Ph.D. Student in Computational Biology at Cornell. Before coming to Cornell, Juan Felipe worked on Human-Computer Interaction and Musical Rhythm Analysis at NYU in Abu Dhabi, where he completed his Bachelor's in Computer Science. His research at Cornell focuses on the application of machine learning and similarity analysis to study genetic disease and the human microbiome.

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