Thanks to the intense computing power of today’s systems, having one’s DNA decoded is a nearly trivial pursuit, depending on one’s budget: a number of corporations will collect a saliva sample, analyze it, and post the results for you to view online. One such company, 23andMe, charges only $99 for this service, presenting your data in an extremely clean and simple format. While the company is currently prohibited from suggesting the probability that a certain genetic mutation may lead to a medical condition (the Food and Drug Administration considers this to be diagnostic and beyond the limits of what 23andMe’s licenses allow it to do; the company’s current value proposition surrounds learning about your genetic ancestry), this was a significant selling point for the product during a growth period in which 220,000 individuals signed up (Murphy). What does the popularity of these services and the means with which they present their findings teach us about our contemporary scientific visual culture? In comparing the process and results of a 23andMe test with the methods of investigation and learning from the pre-modern period, a significant shift in the way we—quite literally—see our natural sciences comes to light. Whereas heterogeneity, transparency, and tangibility were once valued in our representations of the human body, 23andMe exemplifies the deprioritization of these qualities.
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