In a mystical use of genetic modification, a U.K. art group based in Japan has found a way to ensure that a person’s DNA lives on long after their demise.
Biopresence, founded by Georg Tremmel and Shiho Fukuhara, intends to infuse the DNA of recently deceased loved ones into trees, turning the plants into living memorials.
“Basically, it can also be seen as a complex pattern of silent mutations,” said Tremmel.
The trees will have no visual or significant genetic changes, because all the human genes will be stored inside the tree using Joe Davis’ DNA Manifold method, which only affects the genotype of an organism.
In a nutshell, Biopresence will piggyback the human DNA underneath redundant triplets of nucleic acids that already exist in the tree. These redundant triplets are not actually expressed in the tree, making them available to store excess information.
“By taking advantage of this variability, any arbitrary data can be written ‘underneath’ a gene without altering its natural function,” said Davis, who created the method Biopresence uses.
Biopresence hopes that the memorial trees will provide a setting that is more comfortable than a crowded gray cemetery where people can remember those who have passed on.
The first attempt will be with a Japanese cherry blossom tree, which is in the same genome as apple trees. The artists estimate the cost of the procedure to be about $35,000, perhaps a small price to pay for genetic immortality considering that traditional funerals run between $6,000 and $7,000.
“It sounds like a nice gesture,” said Charice Hill, a funeral director for the House of Hills Funeral Homes in New York. “People should do what they are most comfortable doing, but often that’s determined by economic factors.”
By David Cohn