Artist Plans To Create Literal Tree Of Knowledge By Injecting Wikipedia DNA Into Apple Tree
He's creating a literal tree of knowledge.
Yesterday, The New Yorker reported on a project that sounds like a hybridization of biblical myth and scientific experimentation. Joe Davis, the artist in residence at George Church's genetics lab at Harvard Medical school, is planning on inserting the entirety of Wikipedia—2.5 billion words, at least—into an apple grove to create a "living, literal tree of knowledge."
A year ago, Davis received a package that contained roots and leaves from a four-thousand-year-old apple. The artist had been searching for the forbidden fruit detailed in the Garden Of Eden, and regardless if this package contained the DNA of the plant Eve supposedly picked, it was close enough. Now, the artist plans on using synthetic biology to inscribe the entirety of the world's largest and most popular crowd-sourced encyclopedia into the apple's own DNA. The project is titled "Malus ecclesia," as Malus is the genus name for all apples (and also means "bad" and "evil" in Latin), while Ecclesia means "church."
To translate Wikipedia into biological data, Davis must first turn its English entries into the four letters of DNA: a, t, c, and g. So, for example, "Garden of Eden" becomes cTccaTTGcGTaaccTcTGTccGccTTcaGcaaTGaaTaTaGGcGGTacaGacccacTGcGTGGcTTacTGcaaGcacccaGcaaGcGcGGacGcccGTccTcTaTTaTTGc when translated (to find out other DNA coded versions of words, see this fun in-browser app). The apple genome itself is roughly 750 million DNA letters.
The New Yorker explained that to place the coded version of Wikipedia into functional strands of DNA, Davis has to use a type of bacteria that can lodge its own genome through plant cell walls. He has to "trick the bacteria into putting the DNA-encoded Wikipedia into apple saplings, which are then grafted onto apple stock and allowed to grow into adult trees," writes Patrick House. The bacteria can only hold so much information, though, so the coded version of Wikipedia's will be spread across several apples, leaves, and trees—a modified Garden Of Eden that literally includes a tree of knowledge (even if crowd-sourced info that's not totally academically sound). We can't help but imagine the tree growing so that its fruits are organized into topics, a la the online encyclopedia injected into their cores.
Ironically, the article points out that the apple will be forbidden like its source of inspiration: the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not permit the eating of unregulated plants that have been genetically modified. Still, we know we're tempted to go find this grove when it blooms and take a bite out of these information-ripe apples. Who knows, maybe we'll end up ingesting the Wiki-entry detailing the story of Adam and Eve—though the irony and meta-ness of such a snack might have us swearing off fruit for a while.
via The New Yorker