Every dog lover knows that no matter how much dogs look alike, they’re as unique as fingerprints. My Lab may look a great deal like your Lab, but every dog is one of a kind.
Some of you may have had your dog’s portrait painted or photographed to celebrate his or her uniqueness. But did you know that you can go a step further in creating a keepsake of your dog’s singular self?
A company called Signature DNA Unleashed creates an actual image of your dog’s DNA and combines it with your favorite dog photo. The result is a stunning keepsake. Here’s an example of the Picture Personal portrait.
The description, from the webpage: “This DNA image, photo, and message are gicleé printed and sandwiched between two thick panels of clear, solid acrylic. … The picture stands out clearly on its own, essentially framing itself on your desk or tabletop.” It sells for $175.
Pretty great, huh? But how do you get your dog’s DNA? Do you have to play mad scientist, extracting blood or collecting fur? Nah, all you have to do is swab inside your dog’s mouth with a swab kit the company provides.
How’d you like to win one of these DNA portraits of your very own pup? Now’s your chance! One lucky reader will win the Picture Personal from Signature DNA Expressions!
Read through the fun and interesting interview below with the crew at Signature DNA Expressions. Then leave a comment telling us the most interesting thing you learned from it. (Ah, if only school tests were this simple!)
Please make sure we can contact you by using your Disqus account to comment. To do so, include your e-mail address in your Disqus profile, add your e-mail address to your comment, or make sure your social account settings allow us to message you.
Leave your comment by noon Pacific time on Friday, June 8. We’ll draw a winner using Random.org and get in touch with the lucky one within a couple of days.
Enjoy this interview. Not only will you learn something new and, well, unique, but you’ll also get your entry “ticket” to the drawing.
Dogster: Could you talk a little about how DNA Unleashed started?
Our founder, Phillip “Flip” Short, had previous successes that include Viracor, a leading molecular diagnostics lab partnering with transplant and children’s hospitals across the U.S. In 2010 he decided to turn left from molecular diagnostics and clinical medicine into the intersection of DNA science with art, human abilities, and behavior. Art was the first thing Flip wanted to explore, and his creative team agreed that pet DNA art, in particular, was a great place to start.
What inspired this change?
Flip has said, “Viracor was all about saving lives, and that’s a great mission. But there’s more to DNA than saving lives. What can we learn about animals from their DNA? If pets really do sense earthquakes before they happen, is that ability in their genes? If I sequenced [my pet dog] Spunky’s genome, would it explain his weirdness?”
We’re animal lovers. And haven’t we all had the experience of wondering about the unique characteristics of a particular pet? Working with pet DNA and fellow pet owners is just a natural fit for the people who work here. And to tell the truth, we wanted some DNA art of our pets. We didn’t see anyone else out there doing a good job of it, so we had to make it for ourselves.
Isn’t DNA within one species extremely similar? Even DNA between many species has so many similarities. How do you go about showing the differences in Doggy A and Doggy B? Do you actually look for the differences and highlight the unique part of the dog’s code?
Every genome is unique. Yes, we share 98 percent of our DNA with chimps, and 99-plus percent with every other human being who ever lived. But that less than 1 percent is vast — millions of your DNA’s base pairs are absolutely unique to you. The same principle applies to dogs, cats, racehorses, and every other living thing.
Have you ever had surprises, like someone giving you a sample you were told was from a dog but was actually from another critter?
Not that we know of. But we don’t check an animal’s ID at the door. The primers we apply to a DNA sample won’t tell us if it’s a cat or a dog or a piece of celery. We’re not in the business of identifying species or breeds, although we probably will be. For now, we’re just creating beautiful, one-of-a-kind images from DNA. If you send us a photo of a poodle but a DNA sample of a hedgehog, you’re going to get back a combination of the two. By the way, we advise against trying to swab a hedgehog.
Are most people able to swab their dog’s mouth for the full 20 seconds you recommend?
A single swipe would probably give us enough cheek cells to work with, but it’s better to overdo it. Just get a good grip on your pet and keep at it. With some animals, singing softly to them as you swab either calms them down or distracts them enough to get a good sample.
What kind of data come out of the lab and go to the graphic artists? How do they then make the data into art?
What comes out of the lab, ultimately, is a DNA image. Our artists have worked closely with our scientists to create an image-capture system and process that produces clean, consistent images of amplified DNA.
For jewelry, there’s some decision-making about the best cross-section of the image to use, as well as digital clean-up of any extraneous shmutz. For other DNA-only applications, the issues are mainly about digital clean-up, color, and composition. Format and color concerns are central when the DNA image is combined with a photograph. To answer your question directly, though, the main way our artists make the data into art is by being awesome!
I like your answer to people who ask if it’s really their dog’s DNA fingerprint they get back. Is that something people have been concerned about? I guess it’s the same idea as cremains.
We live in an age of virtual reality, fakery, and companies that aren’t on the level. It’s natural to be suspicious. We don’t have a lot of people questioning the validity of our business, but we certainly understand why some people might. We have smart customers. They want to know how this works and make sure it’s not a mere novelty or, even worse, a hoax.
Your cremains analogy is interesting, because in both cases, the product looks similar to every other product of its kind. Ashes, after all, are ashes, no matter whose they are. All similarly-created DNA images share a few basic features — vertical “lanes” with banded “markers” of various thicknesses. But at a certain size, no two random sections of DNA from any two genomes can possibly be exactly the same, because no two genomes are. In fact, if the lab processes aren’t consistent, subsequent images of your own DNA won’t look the same as the first one. So the image Signature DNA makes from your sample will be the same every time, but different than that of any other lab — unless the other lab copies our processes.
The lowest price on your site is $175. Isn’t that a lot for a portrait of a pet?
No, as a matter of fact, it’s not. Our desktop portrait, the “Picture Personal,” not only features an image made from your pet’s DNA and a photo of your pet, but can include a personal message you can write yourself. Considering the cost of DNA imaging, we think it’s a bargain — even when it’s not discounted, which it nearly always is. Compare us to a sitting with a professional pet photographer. We think you and your dog will find us very reasonable.
We see that you work with pet photographers. Can people just use one of their own photos?
Yes, you can, and most people do. But the genetic portrait is an opportunity for a truly unique piece, and a lot of pet photos are just snapshots, with lighting or composition that doesn’t really show off the animal at its best. We’re partners with the best pet photographer in the world. Her name is Jamie Pflughoeft, and her work has appeared in major brand advertising and on magazine covers. If you’re looking for a spectacular photo to use with your DNA art, or just want a few tips from Jamie on taking your own great pet photos, we can hook you up. We want your genetic portrait to be the most amazing picture of your pet you’ve ever had.
Now, Dogster readers, tell us the most interesting thing you read in the interview to enter to win a Picture Personal from Signature DNA Expressions! Leave your comment by noon Pacific time on Friday, June 8. We’ll draw a winner randomly and get in touch with the lucky one within a couple of days.