The liberal lie that “race doesn’t exist” has once again been decisively smashed with the news that even minor DNA traces as small as saliva drops left on cigarette butts can reveal racial traits as detailed as eye, hair color, complexion, freckles, gender, and even facial dimensions.
This “news”—although it isn’t really news for anyone who has been following the truth of DNA and race—has received prominence of late with a new exhibition by New York-based avant-garde artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg, titled “Stranger Visions.”
She has developed a technique whereby she uses DNA she finds “left around” in public from which she reconstructs the faces and facial features of the people whose DNA it is.
As she explained in a press release: “The idea actually came to me in a therapy session! I was sitting staring at this very mundane print on the wall and I noticed that in the glass covering the print there was a crack, and in that crack was lodged a single hair.
“I kept staring at this hair and wondering whose it could be and what I could know about them from it. Walking home later that day I became cognizant of all the genetic material surrounding me, and the idea for ‘Stranger Visions’ materialized.”
“The project began with me, going about my daily life in the city, and coming across samples of human DNA everywhere I looked. Hairs, nails, cigarette butts, chewing gum: we are shedding our DNA all over the place all the time, and we don’t even notice.
“So I began collecting ‘samples’—traces of human DNA I found in my travels.
“The next step is bringing the samples into a lab for DNA extraction. I do this at Genspace, a DIY Biology lab in downtown Brooklyn, or when I am upstate at school I do it in the student Molecular Biology lab there. Working with the biologists in these labs taught me pretty much everything I know about Molecular Biology and DNA.
“So I extract the DNA in the lab and then I amplify certain regions of it using a technique called PCR—Polymerase Chain Reaction. This allows me to study certain regions of the genome that tend to vary person to person, what are called SNPs or Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms. You can learn more about SNPs on snpedia (like Wikipedia for SNPs!)
“I send the results of my PCR reactions off to a lab for sequencing and what I get back are basically text files filled with sequences of As, Ts, Cs, and Gs, the nucleotides that compose DNA. I align these using a bioinformatics program and determine what allele is present for a particular SNP on each sample.
“Then I feed this information into a custom computer program I wrote which takes all these values which code for physical genetic traits and parameterizes a 3-D model of a face to represent them.
“For example, gender, ancestry, eye color, hair color, freckles, lighter or darker skin, and certain facial features like nose width and distance between eyes are some of the features I am in the process of studying.
“I add some finishing touches to the model in 3-D software and then export it for printing on a 3-D printer. I use a Zcorp printer which prints in full color using a powder type material, kind of like sand and glue.
“And it is important to note that this is a work in progress! I’m really only starting to explore all the traits I am interested in examining with this technique.”
In answer to the question of how accurate the portraits are, and if anyone recognized themselves in them, the artist answered as follows:
“First of all, it is important to remember that this is art, not the development of a new product or company. This work is a provocation, designed to spur a cultural dialogue about genetic surveillance and forensic DNA phenotyping.
“What does it mean for an artist, an amateur, to do this? What are the implications for privacy issues as well as law enforcement? I think these are the major questions. We hear every day about ‘digital natives’ who don’t know how not to share their private data with the world, but here we all are, shedding hairs, nails, skin, and leaving saliva behind us all the time, without thinking about it as information.
“I usually say they have a ‘family resemblance’ to the person. They will have similar traits and ancestry, but might look more like a possible cousin than a spitting image of the person themselves.
“The reason for this is multifold, but the primary reason is the research on facial morphology, the way human faces differ, is still in very early stages. A lot of this information comes from what are called Genome-wide Association Studies, research that looks at hundreds or thousands of genomes and tries to find correlations. So it logically follows that the more genomes we sequence, the more correlations we will find.
“So this points toward more precise information in the future and most scientists believe the face is mostly genetically determined pointing toward identical twins.
“No one has recognized themselves yet! In reality these in-progress portraits are more of a general likeness, a family resemblance, than an exact depiction. Furthermore, regardless of how far the science behind the genetics of facial morphology comes along there will always be a significant divergence from the actual face due to epigenetic and environmental factors.”
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