The Woven Voice Has Many Strands

Sharing Experiences of Research and Perspectives on Complexity

Through this project, we seek to explore perspectives on genomic medicine from medical researchers and participants in scientific research. We will focus on recently undertaken genomic research in Nepal. Nepal has a rich weaving culture, which provides a familiar medium with which to undertake participatory visual methods, and in which we recognise potential for exploring genomics.

There is simplicity to the woven cloth, but also a great complexity. Each cloth is made in the same method, using the same tools, and from the same basic materials. There are few necessary elements, and the woven textile is simple. And yet, it is easy to see how each one differs from the next. Any number of colours can be combined in the weft strands, creating great variety. Even in cases where two cloths use the same colour scheme, the patterns themselves can be vastly different, according to the choices of the weaver.

There is a particular aspect of this that is interesting in relationship to the genomic. Notice that certain colours interchange. When one coloured strand comes forward, the other remains present, but is hidden. Keep this in mind.

In each of us, there is a structure and a pattern that determines both our similarity to and difference from one another. Like the fabric, we all use the same structure because we are all human. This structure is called DNA. It is made up of smaller parts called genes, which are the things that determine the ways we are different from one another, including the colour of our hair, how tall we might grow, or whether we are right- or left-handed.

If the vertical warp of the fabric is like DNA – a necessary structure for organising a pattern – the variously coloured, horizontal weft pattern of the fabric is like our genes. The fabric pattern is potentially unique in each case through the order and combination of colours, and in the way that when one colour comes forward, another must move to the back. Just as these colours are either visible on the front or hidden, individual genes are either turned on or turned off. Transcriptomics is a way of seeing on a molecular level whether a gene is switched on, or off – just like a colour is in front, or in back.

This is important because, in the case of our genes, there are things that happen in our lives that can interfere with this pattern. For example, if a person contracts a particular kind of infection, one part of that pattern may change temporarily by turning on or off. If a scientist can see certain changes in the pattern, they can determine what sort of infection someone has. This way of discovering the cause of infection may be better than looking directly for the germ, and may help doctors choose the best medicine to treat the infection. Also, if scientists have a good idea what infections are causing disease in a community they can improve health by preventing infections – for example by using vaccines.

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