POETRY IN TRANSLATION: IN-GENE-IOUS!

POETRY IN TRANSLATION: IN-GENE-IOUS! Canadian poet Christian Bök is known for his experimental work..in literature. His best selling poem, Euonia, uses only one vowel per chapter (e.g., “Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech”).

Living Poetry: It’s taken him nine years to code a poem into a sequence of DNA and express it in bacteria, where it makes a protein which responds back in poetry. Confused? The central dogma of biology is that the 4-letter DNA alphabet (ACGT) can be arranged in a triplet code which in turn corresponds to the amino acids of a protein. The 20 amino acids each have a single letter code, so they can spell out words as well. For example, the triplet GGA codes for amino acid Glycine which is symbolized by the letter G. So, one could write out words in both DNA and protein. There are challenges: for example, there is no amino acid for the letter J so I can’t spell my name out as a protein 😦

Xenotext: Bök devised his own coding scheme and used it to create a gene, gene X-P13, that began a poem, ““any style of life/ is prim…”. Inserted into bacteria, it produced a harmless protein that glowed red and spelled out the poetic response beginning, “the faery is rosy/ of glow…”. Next, he wants to insert it into Deinococcus radiodurans, an extremely hardy, radiation resistant microbe where he hopes it will live forever, outlasting all human artifacts.

Literary Criticism: Natural selection is a tough critic. If this protein has no useful role in the bug, it will likely accumulate mutations and be lost rapidly. Even if the protein survives, both the DNA and protein code could change because it is not the DNA or protein sequence that is important, but the three dimensional structure. Back to grad school, Dr. Bök 🙂

Source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2011/04/the-xenotext-works/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13001382

H/T to Gnotic Pasta for introducing me to the world of bacterial poetry!

#sciencesunday #scienceeveryday

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30 Responses to POETRY IN TRANSLATION: IN-GENE-IOUS!


  1. Very in-gene-ious 😉 I love it!

  2. Rajini Rao says:


    Not that I’ve heard. I don’t know enough about writing music to figure out if it can be done. There is bacterial art; it’s breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve posted some examples in the past.

  3. Rajini Rao says:


    Can you explain, David Haddad ? Did you see the legend tagging the pix?

  4. Chad Haney says:


    Reminds me of Biopunks on NPR.


    http://goo.gl/g95nA

  5. Rajini Rao says:


    They sound like most of the people on G+ who comment on my stream, Chad Haney 🙂 For example, Richard Healy is always asking me if he can build neuronal nets and stuff in his garage.

  6. Chad Haney says:


    I also looks like copyright.

  7. Chad Haney says:


    Computer neural networks, sure, no problem.

  8. Rajini Rao says:


    I chose the pic because it contains fragments of DNA cut by molecular scissors (restriction enzymes, labeled under each lane) that is typically the first step in cloning a gene. Each fluorescent band is a DNA fragment separated by size on an agarose gel. TMI, I know 🙂


  9. Superb share rajini……Its good to see that even poets are pushing the limits.. 🙂

  10. Rajini Rao says:


    Oh good, we are both confused 🙂 I’m not up on video games, am I?


  11. Electrophoresis and Galaga, nice 🙂

  12. Rajini Rao says:


    Almost right, Mahesh Sreekandath , The triplet code spells out the letters of a protein (a protein is a string of amino acids, each amino acid has a single letter symbol..such as R for arginine, K for lysine, and so on). As heavy as metal, huh?

  13. Rajini Rao says:


    Oh, I’m sure you’re not that dense, Mahesh Sreekandath 🙂

  14. Rajini Rao says:


    Advise you to go easy on the head banging, in that case, Mahesh Sreekandath 🙂

  15. Gregory Esau says:


    Rajini Rao , I’m not sure how you do it, but you continually have the most dazzling posts in my very dazzling stream!!

  16. Rajini Rao says:


    The geek in me gets into an excited state and emits some high energy photons? Thanks, Gregory Esau 🙂

  17. Gregory Esau says:


    I’ll buy that explanation, Rajini Rao !!

  18. Jordan Read says:


    The post, combined with all of the comments makes me say this:


    Best. Post. I’ve. Seen. So. Far.


    I’d say best post ever, but I’ve only seen a small percentage, and would like to remain honest…Great Share.


  19. That is so cool, had no idea about bacterial poetry! Thanks for sharing! I’m doing lots of cloning these days so I can only hope my restriction digests work as prettily as the one in your picture 😛 Hope your workload is somewhat manageable now, missed you on G+!

  20. Ravi Teja says:




    All I understood was that somehow, …..


    I didn’t…

  21. Deeksha Tare says:


    I hope the poem stays forever…


    A great feat, and a brilliant combination of science and poetry! I wish I’d get to do something like that 🙂


    Amazing stuff Rajini Rao !!

  22. Sunil Bajpai says:


    Thanks for continually making the most amazing posts Rajini Rao! Putting you in a circle all by yourself 🙂


  23. David Haddad I do believe Rajini Rao is too young to remember Galaga 🙂


  24. This is one “jaw dropping” and ” amazing post Rajini Rao 🙂

  25. Rajini Rao says:


    Thanks, Kershaw Rustomji always good to get your feedback!


    Johan De Meersman , I can safely say that I am young in spirit only 😀

  26. Sunil Bajpai says:


    Mark Bruce, Or someday we may have a genetic string rewriting system that reveals a detectable “talent” for verse. Is it conceivable that an evolutionary process would then produce genetic versifiers?

  27. Balbir Singh says:


    while art uplifts our thinking & teaches that there is more to life than the pursuit of money & sometimes teaches the that there is a another form of art i.e. the art of living in our lives where the mind body soul & family live in a homogenius continuity even with ups & downs which must be accepted calmly without getting mentally disturbed plus compassion for the under priviliged, both in thought & action to uplift them.

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