Like us on FB for more awesome posts!
Don't show this - I already like Bored Panda

People’s Faces Recreated From the DNA Found In Chewing Gums and Cigarette Butts

This may sound like a science fiction story, but American artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg recreates people’s faces from the DNA she finds on various objects tossed away in the streets. For Heather, an old chewing gum or a cigarette butt has the potential of turning into a 3D portrait of someone who used it and didn’t bother to look for a trash bin.

Heather extracts the DNA and studies certain regions of the genome that differs for every person. She then sends the results to a lab and gets back what are basically text files filled with sequences of As, Ts, Cs, and Gs, the nucleotides that compose DNA. Then Heather feeds this information into a custom computer program she wrote to parameterize a 3D model of a face to represent them. “For example gender, ancestry, eye color, hair color, freckles, lighter or darker skin, and certain facial features like nose width and distance between eyes are some of the features I am in the process of studying.” says the artist.

“How accurate are the portraits?” you may ask. Heather says “they will have similar traits and ancestry, but might look more like a possible cousin than a spitting image of the person themselves. The research on facial morphology is still in very early stages.”

Website:, via: thisiscolossal

Sample 6

January 6, 2013 at 12:25pm; Wilson ave. and Stanhope St. Brooklyn, NY; MtDNA Haplogroup: D1 (Native American, South American); SRY Gene: present; Gender: Male; HERC2 Gene: AA; Eye Color: Brown

Sample 2

January 6, 2013 qt 12:15pm; 1381 Myrtle ave. Brooklyn, NY; MtDNA Haplogroup: H2a2a1 (Eastern European); SRY Gene: present; Gender: Male; HERC2 Gene: AA; Eye Color: Brown

Sample 4

Myrtle ave. and Himrod St. Brooklyn, NY; MtDNA Haplogroup: T2b (European); SRY Gene: absent; Gender: Female; HERC2 Gene: AA; Eye Color: Brown

Sample 7

33 Flatbush Ave. Brooklyn, NYMtDNA; Haplogroup: L1b (West African, African American); SRY Gene: present; Gender: Male; HERC2 Gene: AA; Eye Color: Brown

Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg With a Genetically Derived Self-Portrait

Like us on FB:

Subscribe to Boredpanda's newsletter.

3.000.000+ monthly readers


What's hot on Bored Panda

What do you think?

  • Liz Deutermann via Facebook

    I listened to a story about this on public radio and I’m seriously torn on whether this is an invasion of privacy or just a really REALLY cool intersection of art and science. Looking at the rows of faces, you realize that either these people were careless with their gum and cigarettes, or they were just unfortunate enough to shed hair or skin in a place where Dewey-Hagborg was looking for people remnants. Brings home the importance of perspective in all things. And why littering is a bad idea. :p

  • Kay Stewart via Facebook

    How does an ‘artist’ recreate DNA?

  • Andrew Keane via Facebook

    I think you might want to read the article.

  • Kay Stewart via Facebook

    I did.

  • Shalva Amos via Facebook

    do u think it s serious?

  • Diana Issidorides via Facebook

    Just a cool intersection of art and science! Rest assured!

  • Liz Deutermann via Facebook

    She didn’t. See the first sentence: She recreated faces *from* DNA she found in hair, skin flakes, discarded chewing gum, cigarette buts, etc.

  • Kay Stewart via Facebook

    A better answer might have been look up 3D printing. Thanks for being so ‘kind’ Liz and Andrew. :/

  • Liz Deutermann via Facebook

    LOL Don’t be so sure about that. Privacy didn’t become a thing until recently- we didn’t notice it until it was being chipped away. This is really cool, but frankly the implications are frightening. On the other hand, if it gets people to the point where they’re nervous about spitting on the sidewalk or leaving their gum on the underside of theater seats, then I hope more people see this!

  • Anna Jackson via Facebook

    creepy creepy creepy

  • Brian Milner via Facebook

    A better answer would have been learn how to read and do research for yourself

  • Helen Booth via Facebook

    hair falls out all the time… with just the same info in it

  • Kay Stewart via Facebook


  • Jonathan Winchurch via Facebook

    If bins are supplied, use them. If not, what are people supposed to do?

  • Peter Hardy via Facebook

    I’m sure Kay meant to write “recreate *faces from* DNA”, no need to be so harsh. The question was clearly meant as how did an artist get all this scientific knowledge/technology.

  • Kay Stewart via Facebook

    Thank you, Peter. People get meaner and meaner. sheesh!

  • Pamela Joy via Facebook

    There are pros and cons with science. Start off doing good and government, military get a hold of it or criminals.

  • Bored Panda via Facebook

    Kay Stewart you can find all the info you need in her press release:

  • Kay Stewart via Facebook

    Thanks, Bored Panda. I did that after I was so rudely rebuked by people who don’t even know me. And people wonder what’s happening to this world. smh

  • Kay Stewart via Facebook

    I sincerely wonder if Brian, Liz and Andrew think they’re making this world a better place.

  • Katherine Yuca via Facebook


  • Zoë Alexandra via Facebook


  • Schn Uppe via Facebook

    imagine you go and look at the exhibition, and there you are, hanging on the wall – sounds and looks fascinating!

  • Elaine Michel via Facebook

    does not seem very ethical

  • Andrew Keane via Facebook

    Sorry Kay, but my comment wasn’t meant as an attack on you.

  • Kristen Hirst via Facebook


  • Emmanuel Sèbe via Facebook

    OMG , not ethical ! Why r u so rude B, L & K ? Unhappy ?

  • Emmanuel Sèbe via Facebook


  • Brenda Spalding via Facebook

    When fiction becomes fact…. ;)

  • Ethan Yang via Facebook


  • Kay Stewart via Facebook

    Thanks for saying that, Andrew. :)

  • Benjamin Shaw via Facebook

    They’ll be a whole army of Mateusz Antonio’s ;-)

  • Maltreting via Facebook

    Holy shit, that’s my face in the middle!!!

    But wait… I don’t smoke, I don’t like chewing gums…?

  • Ann Pryor via Facebook


  • Karen Bogardus via Facebook

    How clever!

  • Peggy Westmoreland via Facebook

    Wall of shame…

  • Keli Clark-Stowe via Facebook

    This is seriously creepy!!, but not illegal?

  • arr


  • Sheila Fowler via Facebook

    jeez…now I’m REALLY glad I’m not a gum chewer !!! (the old stomach gets confused and screams at me : “hey ! I thought something good was on the way down, quit being a tease !!”)

  • Anonymous

    creepy, and invasive

  • Jola Pisarek via Facebook

    Is it legal?

  • Jboy

    Look at all the haters. People, she is not making human parts, she is making sculptures, based on computer generated images. She is not regrowing human faces. Perhaps this is a step in the process to someday do just that. Someone always has to break new ground. Hurray for art, I say.

  • Jeff Phillips

    It amazes me how many people comment without reading the article. The faces aren’t grown. They are art based on an artists rendition of text files given to the artist by a lab based of attribute markers identified in the dna, such as what eye color or if they have a wide or narrow nose, and other similar features.

  • Alex Mills

    the incredible amount of work that goes behind what this artist does – I have a hard time believing it’s not backed by an NSF grant….. you follow the money trail and you get to defense funding…

Author:   Date posted: May 6th, 2013
Tagged as: , , , , ,