impossible baby simulator

undergrad research project - spring 2015

done for

MIT Media Lab - Design Fiction group

tools used

HTML, JavaScript/jQuery, CSS

link to larger project   >

As an ungraduate researcher my freshman year, I created a webapp for my Ai Hasegawa's (im)possible baby project, which aims to speculate a future where same-sex couples could have genetically-genuine children.

Her project required an ability to simulate the characteristics that a potential baby between a same-sex couple could have, so I created an application that allows for a user to upload two 23andMe (a popular personal genomics service) files and view a list of characteristics the two file's "baby" would have.

parsing the data

I learned how to create a client-side web application that would allow for the user to upload a file, learning how to use the FileReader JavaScript Web API to parse 23andMe-style .txt files. I stored relevant data of the chromosome, RSID, and genotypes for each line in a parents 23andMe file, and randomly picked chromosomes from each parent per gene to construct a list of their potential baby's genes.

displaying the results

After I had the baby's genetic data, I compared it to a list of notable genotypes corresponding to bad, good, and neutral traits, given by SNPedia, a database that provides magnitude and repute of certain genetic combinations. I chose to display the more important characteristics (as determined by magnitude on SNPedia). I also offered a button that would allow for download of the baby's data in the form of its own 23andMe format file.

after the simulator...

Ai eventually used the simulator to combine the genetic information of a real life same-sex couple living in Japan, using the results from the generator to help speculate the physical appearance of their potential children using CGI. Check out the case-study here.

The entire project won awards such as the Excellence Award 19th Japan Media Arts Festival and Won an Excellence Award at 19th Japan Media Arts Festival, and also aired as a documentary on Japanese National TV. It was cool to see my tool in use, particularly in the few seconds they showed the app on the screen!

This was my first serious web programming project and also my first experience doing research as an undergraduate - overall I learned a lot from trying to make a functional* application starting from nothing.

* I would do a lot of things different now, but also because I'm many years (and semesters) older than I was then.

related work