Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg has collected DNA samples from cigarette butts and chewing-gums found on the floor to create realistic portraits of their former owners.

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I find this project fascinating, and although there are still some caveats in the likenesses and the technology behind it, it opens doors to several questions about ethics and the age-old race between technology and laws.

Mostly, is this "discarded DNA" still "owned" by their owners after they flick it to the floor? (I am assuming that our DNA code belongs to us...)

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    "realistic portraits of their former owners" is true enough for journalism (i.e. not very true). All the DNA does is establish the probable location from which their ancestors came, their sex and a bunch of tendencies. The chance of it looking any more like the person then any drawing of an imagined face is rather slim.
    – Dale M
    Mar 1, 2016 at 0:41

1 Answer 1


Trash is public property, see here for example: "The abandonment of property is the relinquishing of all title, possession, or claim to or of it". I think the assumption that a DNA code "belongs to you" is legally questionable. If you don't abandon it, you can own specific molecules of DNA. The only way to legally control replication of that pattern (garnerd via trash picking) would be via copyright or patent. But natually occurring DNA cannot be patented (Assoc. for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc.). As a natural fact, it is also not subject to copyright.

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