In search of the molecular programs that define us, and of course, of those that break us, we have traversed the genetic pastures of "one gene, one trait" (think of Mendel's small vs. tall pea plants), and we have arrived in the genomic jungles of complex traits, in which features can be shaped by tens, hundreds, or even thousands of genes with small effects. Just like a large group of people, a collection of genes can work together synergistically, antagonistically, or indifferently, giving rise to complex results that vary on a spectrum. To cinematically interrogate the implications of complex traits, we first turn to the literal in Simply Complex and then we twist to the abstract in the dual-projectioned film Fly Trap. Examples of complex traits range from morphological (human height) to metabolic (diabetes predisposition) to neurological (just about any behaviour). Two such examples are depicted in We Rule and Lithium through the elaborate behaviours of leafcutter ants and through the spectrum of bipolar experiences, respectively. Lastly, in the movie 95%, we are confronted with the vast amount of genomic knowledge that is still up for grabs, as we imagine the experiments that might pave the way for insight and application.
A stop-motion insight into the molecular world of DNA and the genome. The genome's complexity goes hand in hand with the technology to understand it, what can now fit on a memory stick would once have been too much for a tower of computers. The human genome project took 13 years and $2.7bn, now a full genome sequence can now be done in 2 days, for a millionth of the cost.
A hand processed color photogram film on Super 8 of the late Anabolic Garden once located in the Los Angeles State Historic Park.
We Rule is from “The Leafcutters” series – a project that includes video, photography, drawing and sculpture. It was filmed at Liquid Jungle Lab, a biological research station on Isla Canales de Tierra off the Pacific coast of Panama. The soundtrack was created from wildlife recorded on location: howler monkeys, parrots, toucans, insects and an agouti.
The piece portrays these industrious creatures as agriculturalists, living in large societies, maintained through complex systems of communication, and personifying what are predominantly thought of as behaviors and character traits solely expressed by humans.
“Lithium” is a short documentary about the office of Dr. Ronald R. Fieve, the man who first introduced Lithium in the U.S. as a treatment for Bipolar. We explore the personal life of three New Yorkers and their relationship to the mental illness, as well as their experience using the drug. As a part of the U.K. based “94 Elements” project, this film explores the relationship that humans have with the chemical elements.
A poetic soaring within a laboratory of genetics.
About the author
Andrés Mansisidor is a molecular geneticist who is completing his Ph.D. at NYU in the Department of Biology on the theme of DNA repair and copy number variation. He also has a soft spot for quantitative genetics.