3D Bioprinting Brings Vincent van Gogh’s Ear Back to Life

Scientists have made a breakthrough in DNA research, as they were able to create, with chromosome help, a replica of Vincent van Gough’s ear. Lieuwe van Goh is the great grandson of Vincent’s brother, Theo, and he shares a Y chromosome and a paltry 1/16 of the same genes with Vincent. It turns out that those matches were more than enough to make the replica. Named “the Sugababe,” artist Diemut Strebe has his collaborative work on display at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie ( ZKM Center for Art and Media) in Germany.

There is some debate as to how Vincent van Gogh lost his ear in 1888. The most popular explanation is that he gave it to his lover, a streetwalker named Rachel. Many people wrote the act off as an expression of his insanity. His father did say that he belonged in an asylum, but there is at least one other possibility; he had a falling out with a friend and artist he admired and worked alongside, Paul Gauguin. A skilled fencer, it was said that he may have accidentally sliced van Gogh during a quarrel. In fact, an entire book has been written on the subject by German-based historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegens, titled Pakt des Schweigens (Pact of Silence).

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It sounds very intriguing, but that’s a tangent idea. A great number of us knew the day would come when scientists could create organs almost entirely from scratch, from the smallest unit of measure that holds the blueprint of a human being, DNA. This raises many questions; what else could you reproduce with a meager amount of DNA? A kidney? A heart? There is potential to save lives here, but at what cost? While lives will definitely be saved over time, it begs the question, could this lead to an abuse of power? Could this only help organ sales on the black market? Many surgeries backfire, and sometimes the body rejects foreign objects. How about those selling unproven organs? How about a patient that accepts a new body part and checks out as soon as the payment clears? Additionally, these parts would be very valuable; who would steal and kill for them? Well, the simple fact is that more than a handful of people would risk life and limb to gain possession of a brand new hand or lung. What could be the military applications for such a breakthrough? Some will soon have to decide if this is right or wrong, but until that happens, the science of artificially growing organs in no way seems to be slowing down.


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