Go Inside The World's First Lab That Turns DNA Into Custom Art

DNA 11 lab

Photo: DNA 11 Art Lab

DNA 11, a company that turns your actual DNA sample into personalised artwork, started in 2005 as a creative endeavour.The concept melded founders’ Nazim Ahmed and Adrian Salamunovic’s love for science and art (Ahmed had a genetic background and Salamunovic specialised in design).  

Seven years later, DNA 11 has 80 employees and is churning out thousands of one-of-kind art pieces.

Click here to check out DNA 11’s Lab >

Purchasing a unique piece of art based on your own genetic code is pretty simple, too. All you have to do is swab the inside of your cheek using a collection kit provided by DNA 11.

The cheek cells are mailed to a lab after being transferred onto a card coated with special chemicals that trap the DNA.

The size, colour and frame of your art piece is chosen online.  

The founders recently streamlined the production process so that all steps in designing, creating and printing each custom DNA art take place in one state-of-the-art laboratory.  

“It’s an extremely unique space with people of all different educational and work backgrounds coming together to share ideas,” said Ahmed. “Our office environment is all about creativity.”  

The DNA 11 Lab is located at the company's global headquarters in Ottawa, Canada.

Once DNA 11 receives your sample, the DNA is extracted from the card. Here, a transfer pipette handles the DNA samples being prepped.

The DNA is placed in a machine that replicates small sequences of DNA, which are used as the base of the image.

The DNA is then loaded into a gel. In a process called electrophoresis, a current runs through the gel separating the DNA strands by size.

The large strands move to the top of the gel and the small strands move to the bottom.

The gel is then stained and placed on an ultraviolet box to illuminate the DNA. A digital camera captures an image of the gel as the DNA shines through.

The digital file is sent to designers who customise each portrait.

Finally, the DNA image is printed on a canvas and framed.

The personalised piece of artwork is shipped to customers, available in a variety of sizes and colours.

DNA 11 recently moved all steps of production to one space, dramatically reducing the turnaround time. What used to take four to six weeks can now be done in two days.

CanvasPop, a sister company that creates canvas artwork from photographs is also in the building (the pink represents CanvasPop and the green represents DNA 11).

Even the bathroom walls are covered in Graffiti art created by employees. The murals change periodically.

The loft doubles as a boardroom used for meetings — and the occasional ping pong game.

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