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A University of Delaware Grad is Using DNA to Create Custom Tattoo Ink

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Patrick Duffy, a graduate of Archmere Academy and the University of Delaware, takes remembrance to the next level. His technology allows bits of DNA to be incorporated into tattoo ink./Courtesy of Patrick Duffy/Everence

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What if you could wear your love for someone in your skin or memorialize a life-changing experience in your flesh with a custom tattoo?

Whether it’s used as a unique personal ID—as was the case with the 2,500-year-old Ukok princess mummy known as the Siberian Ice Maiden—or a tradition like the Samoan pe’a (body tattoo) marking adulthood, tattooing has held deep cultural significance throughout human civilization.

Patrick Duffy, founder of Everence./Courtesy of Patrick Duffy/Everence

The meaning, placement and even tattoo application techniques have survived relatively unaltered over history. But what does this tradition look like in the 21st century? According to Patrick Duffy, founder of Everence, the answer is simple: more or less the same, but with better technology.

In other words, he can distill DNA into tattoo ink. The process is actually a little more complicated: A sample of DNA—be it a strand of hair or cremated ash—is synthesized into a powdery substance (Everence), which is then added to existing tattoo inks, or custom jewelry pieces. The result is a few thousand cells from, say, a loved one (human or animal, living or deceased) cosmetically applied to a tattoo.

It might sound a bit macabre, but Everence’s business model is not predicated on the shock value of “morbid ink”—as the movement behind biogenic tattoos is known—but rather the intimacy of memory, Duffy explains.

“I had always been drawn to cultural artifacts and how people use them. … Humans have been using [tattoos] as a means of conveying deep personal meaning for tens of thousands of years,” says Duffy, a graduate of Archmere Academy and the University of Delaware.

In addition to the aesthetic appeal of tattoos, Everence takes this historical rite of passage and imbues it with added meaning.

“At a very basic level, it’s the idea of connection, of being able to carry a unique piece of a loved one or experience,” Duffy explains. His loyal fan base seems to agree: Everyone from A-list celebrities and Silicon Valley juggernauts to people halfway around the world (Everence has shipped to at least 12 countries at last count) have used the product.

And it hasn’t stopped at human or animal DNA. “We can now do things like sand, soil, water, grass, rocks [and] flowers,” says Duffy, who has a tattoo of an illustration from his favorite childhood book “Treasure Island.” His tattoo incorporates Everence from his grandfather, father, mother and daughter, as well as organic material samples from the island that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write the book. Ultimately, Duffy says, “It’s a way to keep what you love. And it’s a story you can share.”

Get more information at everence.life.

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