Visual artists often incorporate new technologies into their work, from etching in the 15th century to video in the 20th. Now biotech is a part of the artist’s palette.
One of the more original practitioners of “transgenic art”—art using manipulated genes—is Eduardo Kac. In 2000 Kac collaborated with French scientists to create a glow-in-the-dark rabbit, and in 1999 he translated a verse from Genesis into DNA and incorporated it into growing bacteria colonies. In his 2009 piece Natural History of an Enigma, he engineered petunias to express one of his genes in the flowers’ red veins.
Kac’s most recent transgenic artwork is Cypher, a do-it-yourself biotech lab in a box. The elegantly sculpted, book-sized kit contains everything needed to produce a special batch of bacteria whose DNA expresses a short poem. The genetically modified bacteria glow red at the end of the process. —Ronald Bailey