Submissions/Malu ecclesia and Apples to Tempt the Devil: Cloning Wikipedia into the Ancestral Apple

From Wikimania 2014 • London, United Kingdom

After careful consideration, the Programme Committee has decided not to accept the below submission at this time. Thank you to the author(s) for participating in the Wikimania 2014 programme submission, we hope to still see you at Wikimania this August.

Submission no. 5056
Title of the submission
Malus ecclesia and Apples to Tempt the Devil: Cloning Wikipedia into the Ancestral Apple
Type of submission (discussion, hot seat, panel, presentation, tutorial, workshop)
Author of the submission
Joe Davis
E-mail address
Country of origin
Affiliation, if any (organisation, company etc.)
Harvard Medical School; MIT Biology
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

Over the past year or so, we have organized a project consortium to sequence the genome of Malus sieversii, the wild apple. Some of us have also planned a companion project, to create an encyclopedic apple, Malus ecclesia, by inserting a highly compressed version of Wikipedia into the Malus sieversii genome. Malus sieversii is considered to be the wild progenitor species of the domesticated apple, Malus × domestica. Through human migration over the past several thousand years, apple seeds and trees were likely dispersed from Central Asia, east to China and west to Europe via caravan trade routes popularly referred to as the “Silk Road.” In the process, hybridization and domestication of apple species have selected for the traits of modern apple varieties. Legends about a tree of temptation guarded by a serpent long predate Judeo-Christianity. Archaeological evidence linked to the Adam and Eve story suggest that the “fall of man” account was known c. 23rd-22nd century BCE in post-Akkadian Mesopotamia. Still earlier accounts of a serpent-guarded and sacred tree, replete with Lilith and the “tablets of destiny” appear in the Sumerian-Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh and the Song of Innana. Parallels of the biblical account are also reflected in Vedic, Norse, and other Indo-European traditions. While biblical references (Genesis 2 – 4) describe forbidden fruit of an unspecified type, it is thought that the first association of the apple as the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is due to Latin biblical translations where the words malus (for “apple”) and mal (meaning “evil”) may have been used together in what would have been considered an ancient Latin pun. Suffice it to say that today, the ancestor apple obviously invokes many deeply mythic and religious connotations. While these traditional and historical contexts contribute profoundly poetic and artistic aspects to the project, broad participation of the scientific community in the effort to sequence Malus sieversii ensures that resulting data are valuable to the research community as well. Apples are one of the most widely cultivated fruit crops. There are more than 7,500 known apple cultivars and over 75 million tons of them were grown worldwide in 2013. Despite the agricultural value of domesticated apples, populations of the wild Malus sieversii progenitor species still exist today as forested stands throughout remote regions of the Tian Shan Mountains in Central Asia. These populations of wild apples would be closely related to those of biblical time periods. They also display diverse phenotypic characters that represent a critical genetic resource for disease resistance, fruit quality, and tree physiology of today’s cultivated apple. Traits lost in domestic apples may be recovered as a result of work described here that could foster development of improved varieties for cultivation over larger geographical ranges and help domesticated apples to cope with the rigors of climate change. Because Malus sieversii is of such ancient lineage, knowledge of its genome is also likely to answer important questions in evolutionary biology. As of February 2013, we have assembled an international consortium of more than 35 investigators at more than a dozen respective academic and scientific institutions to undertake sequencing and assembly of the Malus sieversii genome and to carry out alignments of those data with the genetic background of the entire rose family (Rosaceae), of which apples are a part. In addition to resolving its genome (DNA), part of the project is dedicated to sequencing and assembly of the Malus sieversii transcriptome (RNA), which reflects the existence and relative concentrations of genes actively expressed in tissue samples at the time they were harvested for study. Another subset of project participants is focused on data compression and on coding and cloning issues involved with the insertion of encyclopedic data into the Malus sieversii genome. Participants now include (a partial listing) researchers at MIT, Harvard University, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering (Boston), Karolinska Institute (Stockholm), Brigham Young University (Utah), University of Heidelberg (Germany), Washington State University, Instituto de Ecologia (Mexico City and Vera Cruz), University of Tokyo, University of Athens, and various members of the apple genetics community associated with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The project to sequence Malus sieversii and create the encyclopedic Malus ecclesia has not been directly supported by philanthropic foundations, government funding agencies or corporate grants. Participants insist that no issues of propriety are now, or will in future be associated with results and findings of project investigations. All results are expected to be entirely “open source.” Overall, practical conjugation of scientific and artistic objectives and absence of traditional funding represent an extremely rare, if not unprecedented approach to both artistic practice and scientific research. Realization of an encyclopedic version of Malus sieversii is closely tied to results of the project to sequence its genome. Harvard University biologist and MIT affiliate, George Church, who is a current member of the Malus sequencing consortium, created the first full-length book in DNA form in 2012 and is also involved in the production of the first movie ever to be recorded in DNA. While affiliated with MIT Biology over the past several decades, artist Joe Davis has also helped to pioneer such biological archives and their inclusion into living cells. Efforts to create encyclopedic insertions for Malus ecclesia are centered on coding approximately 50,000 English Wikipedia pages that account for the top 50% of traffic to the site. Proposed manipulations of the Malus sieversii genome should not result in translation of arbitrary or unwanted protein or directly observable changes in phenotype.

Technology, Interface & Infrastructure
Length of session (if other than 30 minutes, specify how long)
30 minutes
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?
Probably not and perhaps, not in any case (personal financial issues).
Slides or further information (optional)
Special requests
Use of 2 projectors/2 laptops - preferrably Apple - with onboard PowerPoint application (.pptx)

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