x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Chromosomes on canvas

q&a Junaid Faruq is the co-founder of DNA-DX, a company that processes the genetic material of its clients to create 'genetic portraits' - colourful minimalist prints to hang above your couch.

Junaid Faruq, the co-founder of DNA-DX, holds a swab and a vial of saline solution used to collect a person's DNA.
Junaid Faruq, the co-founder of DNA-DX, holds a swab and a vial of saline solution used to collect a person's DNA.

Junaid Faruq is the co-founder of DNA-DX, a company based in Dubai that processes the genetic material of its clients and channels it into a computer to create "genetic portraits"- colourful minimalist prints to hang above your couch.

I was working at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia after I had completed my BSc in biotechnology in Dublin, Ireland. I was working with DNA at the time for my thesis and I was making gels, which are 10 by 10 transparent sheets of a genetic pattern - the bands which you see on the gel relate to an individual's DNA sequence. I then moved to Dubai and began working for my father's firm, Eastern Biotech, which uses DNA in the different genetic tests we do. One day I showed him the results of my thesis, which had pictures of gels I'd run. He looked at the gels and said to me, "I bet if you added some colour to these, they would make a cool picture." So I took the idea and ran with it.

It took a lot of tweaking. The science part of it was pretty straightforward: we took a sample from cheek cells and extracted the DNA from them. Then, we produced a gel with the genetic sequence and took a high-resolution image of the gel. Then came the more difficult part. I had to experiment a lot with Photoshop and different colour schemes. We also had to try out different canvasses to see which weight was the best for the ink, and find a printer who was able to produce this particular type of work.

We mostly have couples and young families who want something unique and modern to decorate their homes with. We've recently received a request for a family gene portrait - two girls and their parents - so that is something new.

Lounges and restaurants are another area we're looking towards, particularly with all of the development that's happening in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We hope that the galleries will accept this concept. Right now, there's nothing in Dubai that caters to this type of art. There are high art galleries, design galleries and commercial art galleries, but nothing specifically for digital images.

That is one of our ultimate goals. We've been approached by Mall of the Emirates to perhaps open a store, but right now I want to concentrate on developing the product.

Anything that is alive - that has DNA. A favourite pet - dogs, cats, falcons - even fruit.

At the moment we are printing in ink, but we're also developing what we call a "light portrait" - it will be a gene portrait made out of crystal, with a backlight behind it. But it's an expensive and work-intensive product, so it's only on very special request.

Not at the moment. We are still a young company and are reaching out to members of the film and music industry to see what the appetite is like. The ultimate dream would be to have an album cover - for someone like Justin Timberlake, for instance, to latch onto the concept, because it's fresh and new and different and uniquely Dubai.
mmetallidis@thenational.ae