Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Artist Creates Faces From DNA Left in Public

Angley, Natalie. "Artist Creates Faces from DNA Left in Public." CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 23 May 2014. <>.

Current Event
Celia Haims
5. 23. 2014

This article is about a New York artist, named Heather Dewey-Hagborg, who collects things like, cigarette butts and hairs that she finds in public places. Dewey-Hagborg then takes her samples to Genspace, a community biotechnology lab in Brooklyn, and removes the DNA from the saliva on the end of a cigarette. She practices a “standard DNA extraction protocol to mine the DNA, purify it and use it in polymerase chain reactions.” Once the DNA is pure, Dewey-Hagborg uses the stranger’s DNA for her project, which she calls “Stranger Visions”. Dewey-Hagborg creates 3D faces of what the person would look like, depending on the genes in the stranger’s DNA. Dewey-Hagborg explains that, "From a cigarette butt, I can learn where someone's ancestors likely came from, their gender, eye color, hair color, complexion, freckles, their tendency to be overweight and a handful of dimensions of the face as well with a certain likelihood.” After the sequencing information of the DNA has been retrieved, Dewey-Hagborg inserts it into her computer to begin the process of creating a 3D model of a face, which takes around 8 hours to complete. When the face is first produced it is described as, “What looks like a block of powder,” The face is then, “dug out, baked and hardened with a superglue-like substance.” Dewey-Hagborg explains that the faces will not be exact replicas of the stranger, “They'll have things in common with the person, but they won't look exactly like the person," especially since Dewey-Hagborg is unable to detect the age of the stranger, so all of the faces look around 30 years old.
This article is very relevant today because it increases people’s awareness of privacy issues. When I first read this article I felt a little bit violated because I did not want another person create a 3D model based off of my DNA. However towards the end of the article, it explains that, Dewey-Hagborg understands that some people could consider the 3D faces to be a disturbance of privacy, however, “That's also the point. She wants her work to raise questions about genetic surveillance and privacy issues . . . it's meant to make you aware of these issues and make you aware that this is possible."
I really enjoyed reading this article even though it was very unsettling. It really brought to my attention how much knowledge can be deciphered about another person by decoding their DNA. As I was reading the article I noticed that Heather Dewey-Hagborg could create different variations of the faces with the genes from the DNA and I wondered if these multiple combinations of faces had to do with the crossing over of chromosomes, which we learned about in class. I liked how this article incorporated a lot of dialogue with Heather Dewey-Hagborg because it was interesting to hear that she began this project because of the privacy issues that are present in our world today. I thought one of the main strengths in this article that was at the top of the page because it really showed the reader what the 3D faces looked like. I think the author could have done a better job to explain the technical process of how Dewey-Hagborg removes the DNA from a cigarette butt because the way the author explained it was confusing. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this article and found it extremely fascinating.


  1. Great job Cece!! I thought your report was well written and I really liked how you incorporated quotes. Also, you did a really good job of describing what happens and how she makes the 3D models. The report was very well explained with simple words that were easy to understand. It was also well organized and had a nice flow to it.
    This topic was a very interesting topic, but creepy at the same point. After reading it I am now more aware that privacy really does not exist in this world anymore, there is nothing that is private. It really shocks me that she can make a 3D model that looks similar to person by using DNA from a cigarette butt or something. I will admit it is really creepy how she does this, but she does have a point. The point is that it is supposed to be creepy. I learned that from the saliva on a cigarette butt you can find out someone’s gender, eye color, hair color, etc.
    Something that would really enhance your report is if you put a picture of one of her 3D models. That wold be really nice to have a visual go along with it. Overall, great job and choice in article! This was very interesting!

  2. Celia,
    great job with your choice of article! this was a very interesting topic and to make it even better, it's extremely relevant to what we're currently learning in class (under the topic of DNA). Your report was very well written and you made the main idea and significance easy to understand. It was also very well organized into short, cohesive paragraphs.
    It does raise some questions for me, like is there any way for the artist to figure out the age of her subject? And how did this idea come to her?
    I think your report would be even better than it already is if you included some videos or pictures related to the artist and her work. Overall, you did a great job with this! It was very thought-provoking!

  3. This is really well written, Celia! I found your current event to be very informative and interesting. It was interesting because it was a topic that most people don't always think about, and it was something I didn't even know was possible. You did a really good job at incorporating quotes and making it as detailed as possible. It was written very well, and it was very easy to understand. Also, I generally like the topic you chose because of how relevant it is to today, but it also teaches you something you didn't know before. I was very impressed by how far technology and understanding of genetics has advanced, because this particular experiment requires a deep understanding of the field. Also, I was really interested in how science and social problems tied together. Unless you pointed it out, I probably wouldn't have noticed the connection to privacy issues, but now that I do, I find it even more interesting. This report was very good, and the only thing that could have made it even better would be an example of one of the 3D models. But still, great job!