Monthly Archives: February 2013

A Different Kind of Artwork

PlayDNA Lab TimesPlayDNA is in the news again – this time in the scientific press.

“Combining art and science in England’s historic heart, a few mavericks produce individual pieces of art from their customers’ DNA.

So is it art, science, or education?” In the case of PlayDNA… is a bit of each”.

We’re not sure we’d personally describe ourselves as ‘mavericks’ exactly (!) although we do like to think we’re making science more accessible, fun and cool!

You can read the full article here: Lab Times article

Lab Times has already established itself as one of the most popular Life Science journals in Europe and is recognised as a grassroots magazine produced by scientists for scientists.

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Curious young minds

Earlier this month I was contacted by Scientist in Residence Jennifer Hogan on twitter. Jennifer, as I found out, runs a very special science lab for primary children in Northants called Lab_13.

Lab_13 is a space dedicated entirely to investigation, innovation and creativity; a space managed by young people; a space led by young people.
Lab_13 Irchester
What a fabulous concept I thought!

Jennifer invited me to be interviewed by some of the children on the Lab_13 committee about my career path. They were particularly interested in how I had combined my dual loves of science and art.

Of course I agreed, as there is nothing more satisfying than being able to help enthuse and encourage young people to get involved in science!

Letter from George and the Lab_13 committee

Letter from George and the Lab_13 committee

You can find my full interview with the Lab_13 children of Irchester Community Primary School at their blog here:
Thanks Jennifer, George and everyone at Lab_13, it was an honour to be asked and an absolute pleasure to get involved!

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PlayDNA gets thumbs up from Debenhams crowd!

Debenhams wedding fairAfter an overwhelmingly positive response to our first wedding fair at the 5* Randolph Hotel, Oxford, in January we were delighted to be invited to exhibit our new range of Framed Prints at the Debenhams Oxford department store last weekend.

Following hot on the heels of Valentines Day, the traditional British retailer held a Wedding Fair on Saturday 16th February 2013 to celebrate love, commitment – and how to have a fabulous wedding!

Dr Sam talks through our new product range

Dr Sam talks through our new product range with some keen shoppers

Dr Sam explains the interpretable nature of a PlayDNA portrait

Dr Sam explains the interpretable nature of a PlayDNA portrait – and why they make such great wedding gifts!

As well as the many excited brides and grooms, a busy Saturday crowd kept PlayDNA Founders Dr Samantha Decombel and Dr Stuart Grice chatting about their novel artwork all afternoon. More than one person were stopped in their tracks by the colourful display pieces and paused to admire the ‘extremely cool’ and ‘fascinating’ artworks as they browsed the aisles.

As a wedding gift never to be forgotten you certainly couldn’t do better than a PlayDNA portrait – a fun way to see how compatible the bride and groom might be!

Do opposites attract? Or are you the perfect match? Beautiful genetic portraits for couples and families that come complete with your own DNA analysis and guide.

Available now, just contact for more information or take a look at our facebook page:

Own a wedding portrait as unique as you


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A genome’s junk is a gene’s treasure

Research Profile Picture James Sleigh

By James Sleigh


2012 was an eventful year.

We saw Queen Elizabeth II mark 60 years on the British throne, Team GB excel at the fantastic London Olympic and Paralympic Games, the re-election of US and Russian presidents, and Gangnam Style conquer the world, all while managing to survive the Mayan apocalypse.

The year will also be remembered for a number of considerable scientific achievements. But which is the most important?

The landing of the Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars? The discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN? Or perhaps even Herr Baumgartner’s record-breaking skydive from 24 miles above the New Mexico desert?

Deciding is almost as tricky as picking last year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year!

As the newest member of the PlayDNA team, I’ve decided to begin the year by highlighting the research from 2012 that I think has the greatest impact on our understanding of what makes us human.

The Human Dictionary

Spot the difference?

Spot the difference

You may think you’re quite different from a grasshopper, the mould growing on your week-old loaf, or your Mum’s cheese plant. And you would be quite right. But, despite the instructions to create each species being different, the pen with which they are written is the same.

That is, we all share a universal genetic code – the DNA (the instructions) of all organisms is made from long strings of consecutive molecules known as nucleotides, which come in one of four different flavours (A, C, T, or G). The order in which these nucleotides are arranged within DNA affects how the inherent information is read, and what creature is eventually produced.

This happens because relatively short, distinct stretches of DNA known as genes, are copied to produce intermediary molecules that are then used as a templates to create proteins, the fundamental components of all cells.

Original cartoon by Daniel Paz

Original cartoon by Daniel Paz

Thanks to the Human Genome Project (HGP), the entire instruction manual to build a human was mapped and published in 2003. This landmark scientific collaboration unravelled the sequence of all the letters in our DNA, and identified that each of us possesses a unique complement of about 3 billion nucleotides, including some 20,000 or so genes.


However, the term “genome” is perhaps somewhat of a misnomer, as unexpectedly genes were shown to account for only approximately 1% of the total DNA. The remaining 99% has since often been described as “junk” because it had not been linked to any particular function.

That is, until now.

The Human Encyclopaedia

ENCODE nature cover 1Picking up where the HGP left off, the Encyclopaedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project is a decade-long study, involving over 440 scientists in 32 laboratories, and costing in excess of £180 million. The primary results from this large international collaboration were published late last year across 30 scientific papers, and have earned the ENCODE project my pick for the breakthrough of 2012.

The main aim of the ENCODE project is to build upon the human lexicon described by the HGP, by improving our knowledge of the grammar that weaves the directory of words into meaningful sentences. That is, the ENCODE project is attempting to better our understanding of how our genome of 3 billion nucleotides fits together, how the genes are controlled, and what all that “junk” is actually for.

dnaUsing nearly 150 different cell types, the scientists studied on a very large scale many different properties of human DNA sequences. They looked at which regions were active, which were silent, and what sequences appeared to be important for driving the production of proteins.

Each type of cell uses different combinations and permutations of these DNA sequences to produce its own unique biology. By comparing these differences, we are able to better understand how the genome is put together, processed, and read.

The upshot from what is the most detailed analysis of the human genome to date is that approximately 80% of our DNA has now been assigned a biochemical function.

junk dna

Image credit:

It’s not junk!

Why should I care about that?!

Well, understanding what all the regions of the human genome are doing can help scientists to pinpoint certain genetic risk factors that predispose to different conditions. In the past, many studies looking at patient DNA sequences have found hotspots that appear to contribute in some way to particular diseases. Intriguingly, many of these regions were not found in genes but in the “junk,” making it hard to deduce how and why these seemingly unimportant parts of the genome were being correlated with certain diseases.

In light of the ENCODE results, it is highly likely that these regions are functionally impacting genes that at first glance did not appear to be involved in disease.

Just what the doctor ordered?

Just what the doctor ordered?

We are a long way from understanding the wealth of data that ENCODE has produced. And it’s not going to get any easier, as it is estimated that the project is only about 10% complete.

Nevertheless, by highlighting the importance of our genome’s “junk” for the function of our genes, this breakthrough project will undoubtedly lead to a deeper knowledge of diseases and how to treat them.

Dr James Sleigh is a published research scientist at the University of Oxford currently working on diseases that affect the nervous system. His interest in genetics and neuroscience was sparked while working in a lab at Harvard Medical School as an undergraduate, and he has never looked back! James is passionate about communicating science, and has even won awards for his science writing. He is the research correspondent for the SMA charity The Jennifer Trust and has recently joined PlayDNA as Chief Communications Officer – so no doubt you will be hearing plenty more from him!

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Filed under Author, Dr James Sleigh, Genetics, Science

The cool new way to show off your DNA

DNA Art Portrait Rug Home PlayDNA

The perfect finishing touch to your family home, a personalised PlayDNA rug!

This might just be one time you’ll be happy to be walked all over! The latest edition to our DNA PORTRAIT product portfolio is probably our favourite so far: the personalised DNA rug.

We’ve teamed up with bespoke rug manufacturer and official producer of the Stamp Rug – – to bring this fabulous new product to you.

Interiors UK design rug dna collaboration playdna art

PlayDNA Founder Dr Samantha Decombel and’s Julian Blair discuss the potential of a collaboration to create a new and unique personalised interior option.

Following a chance meeting with Sales Director Julian Blair at the 2013 Interiors UK exhibition, Dr Samantha Decombel immediately saw the potential for a collaboration between PlayDNA and, renowned for bespoke handmade rugs perfected through technology. By combining our high-tech science with their high-tech design, we have created a totally unique and stylish concept in soft furnishings and interior design!

After preparing your personal DNA art with the PlayDNA difference, Dr Decombel and our talented graphic designer Callie Bowyer work alongside Julian to create the perfect design for your home.

DNA Rug playdna art portrait of family

This DNA rug showcases a family of four with every band representing a different trait, such as the gene for eye colour, or whether they are early birds or night owls. Can you spot the family resemblance? We can create a combined DNA portrait for any number of family members!

As you would expect from one of the leading custom rug manufacturers in the world, quality is at the heart of this product, with each beautiful rug hand-crafted from 100% New Zealand wool and silk in the Kathmandu valley of Nepal.

With prices starting from just £599 (1m x 1.25m) and over 350 colours to choose from, you’re certain to find the perfect rug to add the finishing touch to your family home.


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