Art in laboratory conditions

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The Independent Culture

Using hi-tech DNA sequencing technology, the volunteers will be analysing a candidate gene for Specialist Language Impairment (SLI), a disorder characterised by problems with verbal communication. "By comparing the DNA of 50 SLI patients and 50 normal people, we hope to identify the changes in the gene that cause SLI," Webb says.

Also on view to the public will be the more mundane tasks undertaken by scientists, including washing glassware and preparing sequencing reactions in test-tubes. As curator, will Webb be getting her hands dirty? "If one day a volunteer scientist calls in sick, I'll have to put on my white coat and go in there myself," she says.

Members of the public can join in the work, Webb adds. "They will be invited to read the DNA sequences on the graph, and look for the changes themselves and contribute to the experiment."

This is the second sci-art project for Webb, a trained molecular biologist. Safe Delivery, a play about gene therapy, was performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 2000. It was written by Webb's playwright father, Tom McGrath, using Webb's scientific knowledge as its backbone. As a child, her father also ran one of the first contemporary art centres in Glasgow. "This has given me more ease in crossing the line between science and art."

Webb is pleased that SLI is finally taking centre stage at the ICA. "Not only is there a general mistrust of science in our society but other genetic research, such as SLI, gets overshadowed by bigger news stories such as the GM food debate."

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