How might Lady Macbeth’s torment or Cinderella’s sunny disposition have been influenced by their DNA? The Library of Imagined Genes is a biobank containing genetic samples of fictional characters. Browse amongst the books and samples to discover how our stories are shaped not just by actions and choices, but also by our genes.

The Library of Imagined Genes is an interactive performance and installation about the relationship between genetics, behaviour and emotions that was first presented at Green Man 2016. The project was developed by Einstein’s Garden in collaboration with scientists from Cardiff University.

The library’s sample curators asked festival-goers to choose their favourite character from literature, complete a ‘story survey’ for their character and then invite them to donate their genetic information (their ink sample) via the Library of Imagined Genes Hotline – a direct phoneline to all fictional characters.

Scientists then took them through the process of ‘sequencing’ their character’s inkome to separate the ink colours representing six different emotions. The activity was an analogy for how an individual’s genome is sequenced in the lab to reveal their genetic data.

We picked the character Arwen from the lord of the rings. We got a DNA sample from some lovely ladies over there with cool pink hair, they helped us contact Arwen, she was hanging out in the forest.

– The Library of Imagined Genes audience member, Green Man 2016

An investigation board was set up to look at the links between the ink colours and the different emotions, compared to the characters stories, their environment and the choices they made. This enabled researchers to talk to festival-goers about their work investigating the role of different genes in mental health conditions.

I was interested in hearing about what the scientists do, we were asking about what kind of research they were doing and we were learning about sleep disorders and links to mental health and how DNA can affect that, so that was cool.

– The Library of Imagined Genes audience member, Green Man 2016

The Library of Imagined Genes was supported by the Wellcome Trust, as part of a three-year award experimenting with new approaches to creative science engagement. It was first presented in Einstein’s Garden at Green Man 2016. 

Read the project evaluation report

The Library of Imagined Genes was produced by Einstein’s Garden in collaboration with scientists from Cardiff University, Angel Exit Theatre and designer Kirsty Harris.