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“Genesis” (1998/99) is a transgenic artwork that explores the intricate relationship between biology, belief systems, information technology, dialogical interaction, ethics, and the Internet. The key element of the work is an “artist’s gene”, i.e., a synthetic gene that I invented and that does not exist in nature. This gene was created by translating a sentence from the biblical book of Genesis into Morse Code, and converting the Morse Code into DNA base pairs according to a conversion principle specially developed for this work. The sentence reads: “Let man have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” This sentence was chosen for its implications regarding the dubious notion of (divinely sanctioned) humanity’s supremacy over nature. Morse Code was chosen because, as first employed in radiotelegraphy, it represents the dawn of the information age — the genesis of global communications.


The initial process in this work is the cloning of the synthetic gene into plasmids and their subsequent transformation into bacteria. A new protein molecule is produced by the gene. Two kinds of bacteria are employed in the work: bacteria that have incorporated a plasmid containing ECFP (Enhanced Cyan Fluorescent Protein) and bacteria that have incorporated a plasmid containing EYFP (Enhanced Yellow Fluorescent Protein). ECFP and EYFP are GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein) mutants with altered spectral properties. The ECFP bacteria contain the synthetic gene, while the EYFP bacteria do not. These fluorescent bacteria emit cyan and yellow light when exposed to UV radiation (302 nm). As they grow in number mutations naturally occur in the plasmids. As they make contact with each other plasmid conjugal transfer takes place and we start to see color combinations, possibly giving rise to green bacteria. Transgenic bacterial communication evolves as a combination of three visible scenarios: 1 – ECFP bacteria donate their plasmid to EYFP bacteria (and vice-versa), generating green bacteria; 2 – No donation takes place (individual colors are preserved); 3 – Bacteria loose their plasmid altogether (become pale, ochre colored).


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