|DNA sequencing has revolutionized the study of human genetic variation, and insights derived from DNA now matter in diverse settings – from hospitals to courtrooms. Scientists are now also exploring information that DNA might yield about cultural heritage. For example, what can it reveal about works of art and their creators?
Leonardo da Vinci is widely recognized as one of the most extraordinary figures in human history. Leading up to the 500th anniversary of his death in 2019, an international team –– including anthropologists, artists, art historians, forensic experts, genealogists, microbiologists, physicians, and population geneticists –– has assembled to uncover new facts and insights about Leonardo. One of the ambitious goals of the team is to use pioneering methods to obtain traces of DNA attributable to Leonardo from artworks, notebooks or other sources.
On Monday, February 12, three members of The Leonardo DNA Project team – Jesse Ausubel, Karina Åberg, and Thomas P. Sakmar – will describe the origins of this remarkable project, provide a progress report on their research, and reflect on how this scientific inquiry may contribute to art history and conservation, while uncovering new information about Leonardo’s life, ancestry and exceptional abilities.
Jesse Ausubel, Director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University, has helped design and conduct major international research programs, including the Census of Marine Life, Barcode of Life initiative, and Encyclopedia of Life. His lab is now using very short sequences of loose DNA found in seawater to assess the status of marine life. He initiated The Leonardo DNA Project in 2014.
Karina Åberg is a visual artist with a longstanding special interest in the application of digital technology to education. Her unique skill set and enthusiasm about digital media and technology have facilitated her innovative contributions to digital design, advertising, communications and teaching. Her early training in Renaissance art techniques has led to several advances as a member of The Leonardo DNA Project since 2015.
Thomas P. Sakmar is a physician-scientist and the Richard M. & Isabel P. Furlaud Professor at The Rockefeller University, where he heads the Laboratory of Chemical Biology and Signal Transduction. His research program is dedicated to chemical biology and drug discovery research. His interest in visual sensory perception and the origins of creativity in science and the arts have led to his involvement in The Leonardo DNA Project since 2014.
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