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Thwart DNA hunters with two new consumer products

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  May 5, 2014 09:49 AM

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In January 2013 I wrote about DNA artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg of New York, who uses anonymous DNA samples retrieved from sources like chewing gum and loose hairs to recreate the faces of the people who left them behind. Her work is a commentary on genetic privacy and now Dewey-Hagborg is out with two products that are meant to help you keep your discarded DNA to yourself: "Erase," which deletes most of the DNA you leave behind, and "Replace," which obfuscates the rest. They each come in a pocket-size spray bottle, perfect for a DNA-strewn night on the town, and Dewey-Hagborg introduces them in an ominous video (starring herself) that presents them as a kind of citizens' defense against the looming DNA surveillance state. By email, she explained that Erase is a "surface decontaminant," similar to bleach spray, that destroys 99.5 percent of the DNA you leave behind on something like the rim of a wine glass, while Replace is "a solution of custom amplified DNA," which, when sprayed over your own DNA, creates so much genetic noise that a DNA snoop won't be able to tell who's who. The two products are available starting in June for $99 for the pair, and Dewey-Hagborg explains that "this is the first product, the first prototype, in what I foresee being a whole new class of product."

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Images courtesy of Heather Dewey-Hagborg.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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