Monday, April 29, 2013

Bio-Art: Brainbow.

A good friend of mine once suggested that paleontologists were exercising an inborn urge to pose dinosaur skeletons. This was in response to a comment I had made about scientists just plain wanting to make things glow in the dark for fun. Nowhere is this more firmly visible than in the "brainbow." That is not a misspelling - it's exactly what it sounds like.


That, friends, is a "brainbow." It is a photograph of the brain of a genetically-engineered mouse. The rodent houses several different GFP types in its DNA. No PhotoShop was used in his image; it really does look like something one could see in a museum of modern art.

CBS Labs went even farther than GloFish in terms of making a single organism have perfect camouflage for a rave party. Anything with a "brainbow" has each neuron color-coded with a different fluorescent protein, each of which is derived from GFP. The end result looks like something a stoner would see at Christmas.

There is indeed a method to this psychedelic madness. By color-coding each neuron, it is possible to trace individual neuron pathways. Who said art was useless? This is functional and fashionable. Whether it is properly art or not is another issue entirely.

So, the question is once again if this is really art. The brainbow at the very least looks awesome. It does not ask anything by itself. This is your brain; this is your brain on a trip. That the trip happens to look awesome is more of a side-effect than anything, although no doubt the idea arose because someone thought it would look pretty. Chicken or the egg? You decide. 

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