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The Archive
DNA & Molecules 

Digital drawing

Inspiration and composition


The ‘I Art my Science’ project inspired Sophie to wonder about a depiction of her research. The result is her artwork ‘The Archive’ - a symbolic representation of the idea that the human DNA is the historical archive of a cell. 

Sophie refers to the molecular clock – depicted as the pocket watch in the lower half of her drawing - a way of inferring cell lineages using mutations as a readout. Like Sophie’s research, art can also offer a window in the past. By analyzing paint layers and pigments, statements can be made about a painting’s history. 

‘The Archive’ is a dynamic digital drawing made in Photoshop. Sophie based it on a handmade drawing that she made after looking at images of DNA. The bookcase symbolizes the DNA. 

The snakes that form the backbone of the double helix, refer to the symbol of medicine (the Rod of Asclepius) and Python - the first programming language for biomedical scientists. Sophie put emotion in her drawing by giving the snakes a strong expression. 

“I like when I look at a picture and it evokes an emotion in me. For the general feel of the drawing I chose to have an aggressive interaction between the snakes. They make my drawing much more engaging.” 

The aggressiveness of the snakes can also be associated with the presented archive, composed of mutational records. These mutations can have a negative connotation for causing diseases like cancer. The strangling between the tails of the snakes represents the conflict that comes with disease and makes the drawing more balanced. 

The artist

About Sophie van der Leij

Sophie did her internship in the Van Boxtel lab. Here researchers look at DNA as a historical archive in which they can trace the genomic changes that cells acquired over time, and that led to the formation of tumors. In a tumor, each cell is defined by having a combination of mutations in its DNA. The more cells that have a specific mutation, the longer that mutation has been around. By analyzing how prevalent all the different mutations are, researchers can look back in time and determine the sequence of events that took place on a genomic level. 

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