Can artistic innovation be inspired and guided on knowledge taken from the field of plant genome evolution? The author explored this question by subjecting a glitch artwork to processes analogous to those shaping the evolution of the maize genome; that are whole genome duplication (WGD), subgenome bias fractionation and genome dominance, respectively. The mosaic composition of glitch art provided the author with a comparable visual reference to the mosaicism found in plant genomes that emerged from multiple rounds of polyploidy (genome doubling) events throughout the history of many plant species.
Mosaicism as shared characteristic of the maize genome and glitch art
The maize genome is a mosaic of rearranged chromosomal segments that arose as a result of allotetraploidization – the hybridization of two species followed by chromosome doubling – and subsequent diploidization – the transition of a genome from polyploid to diploid. As a consequence, maize is an ancient tetraploid that behaves as diploid. Glitch art is a mosaic of pixels created by artists that use data compression, loss and error methodologies that highlight technology’s inability to execute its intended function, producing visual noise artifacts that are considered art.
Plant scientists also explore technological means to produce ‘error’ and take advantage of the organismal’s inability to execute its biological processes as procedural approach to generate novelty in plant form and function. For instance, the use of the chemical colchicine to create synthetic polyploids (sometimes termed neopolyploids) by impairment of microtubule formation and cell division, trigger a range of biological processes that are not directly controlled by the scientist but that arises as an intrinsic mechanism of organismal biology. Thus, glitch artists and scientists rely on induced errors to create new kinds of abstraction.
Whole genome duplication in maize occurred naturally around 4.8 million years ago. Interestingly, glitches that produce unexpected visual outcomes also occur naturally and unintended when technology fails. Here the author present two glitches that spontaneously arose while working on his Apple laptop and desktop computers at the time he had several programs running in parallel that caused the system to crash and stall. Because of the appealing nature of the visual outcome, the author saved the resulting images as glitch art (Figure 1 and 2). The mosaicism of these art pieces is striking.
The objective of the current study was to utilize the glitch artwork shown on figure 2, and intentionally subject it to artificial processes emulating those shaping the evolution of the maize genome; in order to explore potentially new visual outcomes that could enhance the aesthetic value of the image in question.
Whole genome duplication, bias fractionation and genome dominance as raw material for evolutionary innovation
Maize and sorghum are closely related grass species that shared a common ancestor about 12 million years ago, but maize underwent an additional round of genome doubling (whole genome duplication) about 4.8 million years ago compared to sorghum. This means that for each chromosomal segment that was present in the common ancestor of sorghum and maize and is still conserved among the two species, maize have two copies of the segment compared to only one copy in sorghum (2:1 ratio). Interestingly, both copies are not always retained in the maize genome (composed of two subgenomes), with the removal of one of the copies during diploidization. The removal of duplicated gene copies in the maize genome is known as fractionation and it has been shown that this process is biased, with gene loss more frequently associated to one subgenome compared to the other.
Apparently, single gene loss by deletion (compared to inactivation and sequence randomization, gene transposition, and segmental transpositions) seems to be the most frequent fractionation mechanism in the maize genome. This means that genes are being deleted and lost from one of the subgenomes at a higher rate than on the other subgenome. The ‘tension’ of gene loss versus retention between duplicated genome segments is worth exploring from an artistic perspective.
Levels of gene expression influence differences in the rate of gene loss because the most highly expressed gene of the homeologous pair tend to be conserved. Furthermore, genes from the maize subgenome that is experiencing higher rate of fractionation are in general expressed at lower levels. This phenomena of one subgenome displaying higher expression levels than the other subgenome has been termed genome dominance. It has been proposed that purifying selection acting against deletion alleles of gene copies that contribute more to total gene pair expression is the main evolutionary force driving and maintaining bias fractionation and genome dominance processes. In this work, the process of genome dominance is also explored from an artistic perspective.
The processes described above account in part to the great genomic and phenotypic diversity observed in maize, and has been suggested that whole genome duplication followed by bias fractionation and genome dominance are raw material for evolutionary innovation in plants. Thus, the author wanted to ‘transfer’ this process to artistic expression in order to create novelty in the visual realm of glitch art.
Whole PIXEL duplication, bias PIXEL fractionation, and PIXEL dominance as raw material for ARTISTIC innovation
In order to transfer concepts from ‘maize genome evolution’ to ‘glitch pixel evolution’ the author took into account the following premises:
1) glitch artwork shown on figure 2 is the equivalent of a pre-duplication haploid genome
2) each pixel in figure 2 is the equivalent of a gene in maize
3) glitch artwork on figure 2 is subjected to whole image duplication
4) the fate of duplicate genes following whole genome duplication is equivalent to the fate of duplicate pixels following whole image duplication
5) differences in level of gene expression is equivalent to differences in pixel brightness and/or pixel color
6) gene loss after whole genome duplication is equivalent to pixels painted in black color after whole image duplication
7) assignment of duplicated segments to an ancestral and unduplicated genome is equivalent to assignment of duplicated pixels (and/or duplicated segments of pixels) to an ancestral and unduplicated image
Although the above premises can be considered to be somehow subjective, the author tried to make the necessary artistic and coding decisions that could be supported on knowledge from maize genome evolution as to effectively bridge art with science. The term ‘evolution’ here does not imply the use of genetic algorithms to evolve a glitch image but rather refers to the process that shaped the maize genome and how the author used this process and applied it to a glitch image.
Regarding premise #7, it is important to mention that an unduplicated image is essential for the identification of fractionated duplicate pixel segments as for the differentiated lost from one duplicated subimage but retained in the other.
Overall, the process is the artistic equivalent of duplicating an artwork and subsequently deleting parts of it by painting them black, while keeping track of each pixel lost by comparing to the original unduplicated image. Pixels painted black after whole image duplication are determined by their brightness level and can be considered as pixel brightness driven bias fractionation.
Whole IMAGE duplication
Assuming figure 2 is the equivalent of an haploid genome of maize that undergoes tetraploidization, the author created a single image by repeating the same glitch artwork four times (Figure 3). The top row of images will be considered as ‘subimage 1’ and the bottom row of images will be considered ‘subimage 2’ in relation to the two subgenomes of maize after tetraploidization (named maize 1 and maize 2 respectively).
Bias PIXEL fractionation & PIXEL dominance
The equivalence of analyzing gene expression is to look at pixel’s brightness and pick those pixels higher in brightness according to a given threshold, and then ‘delete’ (by applying black color) all pixels with brightness level lower than the selected threshold. The result of this methodology is shown in Figure 4.
At this step, an equal threshold was applied to the two subimages and pixel loss/deletion was homogeneous across figure 4. Interestingly, equal gene loss (unbiased fractionation) and no bias in gene expression between duplicate regions (genome equivalence) is the norm for genome evolution after whole genome duplication in banana, soybean and poplar species. In order to emulate the process of bias fractionation and genome dominance occurring in maize and transfer it to figure 3 and 4, the author applied a different brightness threshold to subimage 2 only and kept the previous threshold for subimage 1. In this manner, bias pixel deletion displayed a higher rate for subimage 2 compared to subimage 1 (Figure 5).
From retained pixels (pixels still present in subimage 1 and subimage 2) with the same brightness, the author extracted their amount of red color according to their position within the image along the y-axis. As vertical lines of pixels are defined across subimages, their color is dependent on their combined composition of red, green and blue for subimage 1 and 2, giving rise to different colors according to their amount of red along the y-axis. This methodology imposed expression divergence of retained pixels among subimages and was thought to emulate the phenomena known as regulatory neo-functionalization. Expression divergence and regulatory neo-functionalization would then visually translate on retained pixels among both subimages having diverged in their colors based on their amount of red along the y-axis (Figure 6). This process in maize determines that duplicated gene copies can acquire different expression patterns and possibly different function.
Syntenic alignment of retained pixels from the tetraploid image to the progenitor diploid image highlights pixel’s diversity after whole image duplication
In order to analyze pixel diversity created as a result of whole image duplication, bias fractionation, pixel dominance and expression pixel divergence, the author created a single image (Figure 7) that included figure 2 (progenitor diploid image), and figure 6 (diverged tetraploid image) and took a single row of pixels per diploid set: (a) one row of pixels for diploid image from figure 2, (b) one row of pixels from tetraploid subimage1, and (c) one row of pixels from tetraploid subimage2. Each row of pixels had the exact same y-axis value or height for the alignment to be considered syntenic. The author then accessed each pixel’s color data for the three rows in order to conduct the alignment (Figure 8).
By visually aligning pixels from the progenitor diploid image and compare them to the diverged tetraploid image (Figure 9) the author could effectively address from a visual perspective the variation that emerged from subimage1 and 2 after processes that emulated maize genome evolution were applied to glitch artwork from figure 2. This guided and methodical approach inspired in biological principles opposes the common approach of using random functions in programming to create visual novelty purely based on computer calculations of chance. Similarly, standard processes used in glitch art weren’t needed either in order to create pixel diversity within the same image.
Communicating science concepts in artistic form
The ability to emulate evolutionary processes shaping the genome of plants and communicate them in non-scientific form through glitch art and computer programming allowed for the visual perceptualization and transmission of genomic concepts to a general audience. Furthermore, the work presented here is an extension of the previously conceptualized artistic form of expression the author has coined as Genomic and Geometric AbstractionISM as the intersection of genomics, art and computer programming. By taking concepts from plant genome evolution as raw material for novel avenues of visuality, gives the work a conceptual framework that bridges the analytical and creative domains of human endeavors. In fact, the ideology driving the efforts of glitch artists and scientists is not that much different when it comes to coerce technological and biological systems into error creation as new forms of abstraction. In this particular case, the author transited from complexity to simplicity as the end result is an image reduced to a line pattern. Visual simplicity as the end result of scientific reductionism is the strength of the work presented here.
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