Bioartist Diemut Strebe has “grown” a living replica of Vincent Van Gogh’s ear, using cells from a living relative of the artist.
Diemut Strebe worked with a range of scientist including ‘ear mouse’ creator Charles Vacanti to develop the living replica. The first challenge was to find genetic material. She scoured collections for some original genetic material from the artist, examining a hair and other artefacts before gaining access to an envelope owned by the Custodia Foundation in Paris. This envelope was used by Van Gogh in 1883, and samples of biological material were extracted from the back of the stamp in September 2012, with mitochondrial DNA extracted and sequenced by Strebe, but it couldn’t be verified.
At the same time, Strebe approached the great-great-grandson of Vincent Van Gogh’s brother Theo — Lieuwe van Gogh, who shares a sixteenth of the Dutch artist’s genome. Also an artist, Lieuwe was intrigued by the project, and willingly donated a tissue sample (cartilage) — taken by a “great plastic surgeon” — taken from behind his ear. “He liked the idea right away so it wasn’t hard to convince him,” Strebe told Wired.co.uk.