Bio-artist Joe Davis’ new project will take genetic modification to the extreme.
Joe Davis is an award-winning researcher, artist and expert in exploring subjects within the fields of molecular biology, space art and sculpture, building his creations using anything from prosthetics to genetic material. Currently, Davis is the artist in residence at George Church’s genetics lab at Harvard Medical School, where he’s embarked on one of his most intriguing works to date. With the “Malus ecclesia” project, Davis proposes to use synthetic biology toinject a “DNA-encoded version of Wikipedia” into an apple in order to create a literal tree of knowledge. Malus, the genus name for all apples, means both “bad, evil” and “apple tree” in Latin, whereas ecclesia translates to “church”— an homage to George Church.
The project will be created in English letter pairings, and then the words will be translated into code and finally, into letters of DNA which can be seen as agtgtagcccaatcgcagaccctcaa. If all goes as planned, the outcome will lead to biologically viable strands that can be injected into the roots of a 4,000 year old apple tree. But this isn’t just any plant – this apple tree in particular due to Davis considering it “the closest fruit to that grown in the Garden of Eden.”
To make sure the apple absorbs the DNA, Davis will use a particular type of bacteria that’s been specially evolved to insert its genome through the plant cell walls. The result will consist of a 750 million letter book, made up of the four letters of DNA – A, T, C and G. This process will have to be repeated copious amounts of times as he has found that only around 5,000 words of Wikipedia articles fits into a singular apple.
Davis explains to The New Yorker:
“It draws together science and religion in very close proximity,” he said. Asked if he would take a bite, he pleaded the Fifth: “You know, I have tried to be very sincere and straightforward with every question you asked me, but, in this particular case, I’m going to claim artistic license.”
Only time will tell if this abstract project will come to fruition.