DNA Design: It's in the Genes

If you're looking for the perfect gift, you might find it in the genes.

A U.K.-based company called DesigNA makes jewelry, glassware, rugs, mirrors, stained glass and wall hangings that incorporate people's individual DNA patterns into the designs.

"It's a gift that no one else will have," said Louise Allcroft (search), geneticist and co-founder of DesigNA.

DesigNA sends customers a DNA kit. Customers take a cheek swab and mail it back to the company, which then produces a three-color bar code representing the DNA strand. What makes the code one of a kind, said Allcroft, is the spacing between the bars and the order of the three colors — yellow, blue and green.

"Your DNA profile is completely unique to you unless you have an identical twin," she said. "It's your design for life. It makes you who you are. It's another reflection of yourself."

Once DesigNA comes up with the DNA code, one of its artists incorporates the pattern into the product.

The most popular gift is jewelry. DesigNA offers an array of necklaces made of colored beads or crystals placed at various distances from one another, and can even do wedding rings using differently colored metals to represent a couple's DNA patterns.

Items range in price from about $140 for a framed image of a personal DNA profile to several thousand dollars for some of the jewelry.

Geneticist Joann Boughman (search) said DesigNA is another extension of art imitating nature.

“We have been copying nature in our art forever,” said Boughman, the executive vice president of the American Society of Human Genetics. “What this company is doing is getting down to the molecular level and sharing that beauty of nature, bringing it to a level where other people can appreciate it.”

Rosie Clark, 23, just received a DesigNA rock crystal necklace from her parents as a belated 21st-birthday gift, and she’s thrilled with how it turned out.

“It’s absolutely beautiful," said Clark, of London. "It’s really modern and really cool."

She said she found DesigNA's products on the Internet and thought the necklace would be the perfect present.

"You're never going to get anyone who's got the same thing, are you?” she said. "It's quite distinct. It's a bit of a unique talking point."

Allcroft said DesigNA’s merging of art and science aims to popularize genetics.

“I wanted to bring genetics over to the general public in a positive way,” she said.

In fact, DNA has already become a theme in popular culture. Its roles in cloning and crime solving have piqued the public’s interest. And the entertainment industry has capitalized on the phenomenon, with hit TV shows like CSI and its spin-off CSI Miami.

"DNA is a hot word right now,” said Lyn Godley, a product designer and professor at Parsons School of Design. She said incorporating its patterns into gift designs sounded like "another way of making a sale."

"This seems like a gimmick," said Godley. "From a marketing standpoint, it's very valid. From a designer's standpoint, I'd say it's lacking."

Another Parsons product design professor disagreed, saying DNA patterns are interesting design elements.

"I think it has artistic value," said Richard Penney. "It's a valid exploration of design." He pointed to a two-dimensional piece of art currently on display at New York's Cooper-Hewitt Museum (search) that is based on a DNA code.

But some people are squeamish about the idea of DNA-inspired gifts.

"That is just so unsettling to me on so many levels that I don't think I would buy anything like that," said Cristina Barden, a store planner from Long Island. "It's kind of weird. If you want to personalize a gift for someone, put their name on it. I don't need to see the double helix."

Judging from the response that Allcroft said she's gotten, though, there are plenty of people out there who find the concept fascinating.

"With this, you're physically involved in creating it yourself," she said. "It captures the imagination."