Creating Portraits Using Dna Forensics, an Artist Turns Police Into the Suspects
May 24, 2022
Jonathon Keats

By contemporary standards, the first half of Hershman’s work seems pretty staid. Using synthetic biology tools developed by Twist Bioscience, she stored her previous artwork in DNA, algorithmically encoding it as a sequence of base pairs. Exhibited in a glass vial, this bespoke DNA merges life and art with the ironic twist that all that is alive and all that is artful has been rendered inert and sterile. The adjacent vial is more beguiling. Working with scientists at Novartis, Hershman synthesized her own antibody. The antibody is distinguished by a unique antigen binding site, made with a sequence of amino acids spelling out her name. Antigen binding sites act as the immune system’s forensics unit: the means by which immune cells identify and attach to viruses and other pathogens in order to eradicate them. In vivo, these binding sites are highly variable, providing many options for a molecular fit with a pathogen’s protein structure. When a good fit is found, the antibodies proliferate and persist in case the pathogen attacks again.