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Biomedicine in museums

Genomic jewellery — an Illumina BeadChip necklace

We’ve just produced this simple piece of genomic jewellery — a necklace made by a gene chip in a thin silver chain (see larger image below).

This particular gene chip (BeadChip) is produced by the San Diego-based company Illumina, which develops and manufactures platforms for the analysis of genetic variation and biological function for the rapidly growing sequencing, genotyping and gene expression markets.

First, here’s some technical description of the Illumina BeadChip (based on what our senior curator Daniel Noesgaard has found out):

A BeadChip is a ~30 x100 mm silica slide containing twenty-four arrays, each allowing for genotyping of a single biological sample. Each array contains a very large number of microscopic microwells etched into the surface of the slide. The microwells (<3 micrometer in diameter, 3 micrometer deep) are uniformly spaced across the silica surface, i.e., each array contains more than 0.5 million about microwells. The microwells are filled with tiny silica beads (one type per well) held to the wells by non-covalent forces. Each bead is covered with hundreds of thousands of copies of a known short nucleotide sequence (50 nucleotides long). In addition, each bead also contains an address sequence that allows for decoding, once beads have been randomly distributed across the chip wells. The design allows for 3,000 to 90,000 bead types, each of which represents one single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) to be analysed.

The assay is based on genomic DNA that is extracted from blood samples. The DNA is amplified, fragmented, precipitated and resuspended before being loaded onto the BeadChip for hybridization with the short nucleotide sequences on the beads. After hybridization, the chip is washed to remove unhybridized or non-specifically bound DNA. Then fluorescently labeled nucleotides are added to extend the hybridized DNA that thus act as primers. Finally, the chip is coated for protection against photo bleaching. Following coating, the chip must be scanned immediately. If necessary, the chip can be stored for up to 72 hours in a dark vacuum with minimal signal loss.

The necklace has so far been produced in one copy only — made as a gift for Bodil Busk Laursen at the occasion of her retirement as Director of the Design Museum Denmark last week.

It was our senior curator Bente Vinge Pedersen who suggested we could use one of the chips left over from the ‘Genomic Enlightenment’ art installation earlier in the spring:


(see also the video from the installation work here; more about the ‘Genomic Enlightenment’ installation in a later post).

Senior curator Niels Christian Vilstrup-Møller and conservator Nanna Gerdes did the craft work and the necklace was handed over to Bodil Busk Laursen at a reception last Monday.

And here’s a larger image of the piece:

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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