Genophone began as a way to conceive of DNA in a non-biological form. Since the discovery of the genetic code, scientists and artists have created ciphers that enable the translation of DNA into other forms: text, music, images. These methods of translation are still either rudimentary or prohibitively expensive but they are a fundamental part of the future of biotechnology. Within synthetic biology, there is a race to develop a universal biological coding language, with a standard syntax and grammar, to aid the design and build of new biological organisms. The material of DNA itself and its ability to store vast amounts of data has led to its being hailed as the next storage medium after software: wetware. The combination of modifiable living organism and storage medium are leading towards a Neuromancer style future of living memory chips and biological libraries.
Genophone is an early exploration of these technologies: a conceptual wetware memory chip, designed to challenge how we think about synthetic biological futures. Using a cypher that maps the genetic code to phonemes, it converts our thoughts to sequences of DNA that can be stored within a living cell, allowing the possibility of holding our thoughts within bodies in a retrievable manner.
Genophone is a performative attempt to open another door into biotechnological life, through the translation of DNA into phonetic symbols that can be understood as spoken phrases. The cypher used to convert the DNA into speech is just one of many forms of DNA encryption. The phrases are therefore only intelligible to those who hold the key to the cypher and furthermore, as the organisms evolve, the chances of the phrase remaining intact diminish.
Genophone has already been used to store a thought within the body of the laboratory workhorse, Escherichia coli (E. coli). As a result, these bacteria are genetically modified to hold this thought within their bodies. They are being nur/tortured within a laboratory context and periodically sequenced to determine whether the thought will remain stable throughout generation after generation of E. coli, before the same process will be tested in mammalian cells. The process of storing and retrieving information in this manner has been made relatively simple through advances in synthetic biology. The process of finding mutations within the millions of copies of cells generated is more like finding a needle in a haystack. Thus it is virtually impossible to know for sure whether every copy remains the same.
Using predictive evolutionary modelling software, Genophone also predicts how a thought might change, over time, when stored in wetware, giving authorship to the wetware storage mechanism as object, across an evolutionary timespan that suggests an inherent slow-liveliness of matter.
Wetware Text Generations:
what will happen if I store this thought safe within you?
Author © Louise Mackenzie, software development Étienne de Crécy
Protein translation gif attributed to: Bensaccount at en.wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons