biochem poetry – how synthetic dna can make your words immortal
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-fluorine and caesium
“The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them” William Bragg
Have you ever thought about writing a message that can never be destroyed and lives on even after you are dead? Just recently I came across a very interesting way to make it possible and it might shed a different light on the whole GMO haterade: encoding a text on a synthetic DNA strand. It may sound very Sci-Fi but it’s not even a new approach and has a practical background: to keep synthetic genome apart from a natural one, scientists must use something like a “watermark” on their creations, similar to microchip watermarks they are inscriptions on unused portions (read more). To use this kind of procedure as a medium for your poem or something literal that is important to you excites my torn-between-science-and-art heart.
As far as my web research goes the first one who successfully encoded text parts into a strand of DNA was Eduardo Kac. Yes, that’s the same guy who commissioned a french lab for the creation of Alba, a GFP Bunny that glows in the dark. He used the first lines of the bible’s genesis in the synthetic DNA strand, implanted it into a microbe and stressed the microbe out with UVGI, a biotechnological disinfection method that uses UV light to kill (or stress) microorganisms. This procedure caused mutations in the text as the microbe reproduced and multiplied and, voilà, he has just offended religious conservatives off from his laboratory bench. I’m amused he used something so controversial in his work. There is a multitude of ironic or fun messages that can be implanted, like german-based specialist for plant reproduction Icon Genetics’ idea to make a little transgenic plant recite Virgil’s Georgics every time it reproduces. It says “Nec vero terrae ferre omnes omnia possunt” (“Neither can every soil bear every fruit”) which they must have thought fits just perfectly into sweet little mouse-ear cress. Pak Chung Wong, a computer scientist, had the idea to encode something less controversial than the bible into the genome of tough (cold, dehydration, vacuum, radiation and acid resistent) bacteria Deinoccocus radiodurans: the lyrics of the Disney soundtrack for 1964 World’s Fair called “It’s a Small World (After All)”, how cute is that? You can also make your bacteria do poem on its own, like canadian experimental artist Christian Bök‘s project The Xenotext (click). An article at macleans.com explains his approach “A short stanza enciphered into a strand of DNA and injected into an ‘unkillable’ bacterium, Bök’s poem is designed to trigger the micro-organism to create a corresponding protein that, when decoded, is a verse created by the organism. In other words, the harmless bacterium, Deinococcus radiodurans will be a poetic bug.” But as every intervention that reaches out into our most precious root of identity we must handle genetically modified organisms and especially bacteria/viruses with responsibility and professionalism. But the thought of having a meadow flower create a rap text that makes more sense than Kanye West Lyrics makes me grin for at least a week. Amused and up for festive silver garments, Ea
today: synthetic biology