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The poetryome

Biology is, of course, creative. Without a little non-linear thinking to dream up new conceptual approaches and methodologies, some of the best experiments ever conducted would have never left the drawing board. But when it comes to communicating scientific results -- even stunning, revolutionary ones -- the literature can be drier than chalk dust. Image: Wikimedia commons, George GastinA new project sponsored by The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) -- a UK-based organization for res

By | July 23, 2009

Biology is, of course, creative. Without a little non-linear thinking to dream up new conceptual approaches and methodologies, some of the best experiments ever conducted would have never left the drawing board. But when it comes to communicating scientific results -- even stunning, revolutionary ones -- the literature can be drier than chalk dust.
Image: Wikimedia commons,
George Gastin
A new project sponsored by The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) -- a UK-based organization for research and training in social and economic issues -- aims to change that. Comprised of contributions from writers, scientists, and others around the world, linkurl:The Human Genre Project;http://www.humangenreproject.com/index.php seeks to spread the word about human genomics through short stories, reflections and poems. The mapping of the human genome is "one of the great landmarks of recent science," says linkurl:Adam Roberts,;http://www.adamroberts.com/ a science fiction writer, professor of 19th century literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, and contributor to the project. "This [project] is another form of mapping [the same genome in a more] creative way." linkurl:Ken MacLeod,;http://kenmacleod.blogspot.com/search/label/genomics founder of The Human Genre Project and writer in residence at the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, came up with the idea while looking at the Human Genome Landmarks poster -- a graphical depiction of selected genes, traits, and disorders associated with each of the 24 different human chromosomes. Inspired by that poster and the linkurl:Periodic Table of Science Fiction,;http://www.lexal.net/private/scifi/scifiction/periodictable.html in which science fiction writer linkurl:Michael Swanwick;http://www.michaelswanwick.com/ writes a very short story for each element of the periodic table, "I thought, 'Hey, why don't we do something like that for the genome?'" MacLeod says. The project launched earlier this month, and has already accumulated 27 entries, with more coming in every day. Entries are inspired by a particular gene, chromosome, or by genomics in general, and each is listed under a particular chromosome in the genome, colorfully displayed across the screen. "My goal for this is that it fills up nicely we get a fine diversity of short stories on it and it becomes something people can use as a resource [for information on genetics]," MacLeod says. "Getting this [information] articulated in artistic ways is both educational and artistically has a lot of potential." Here are a couple examples of The Human Genre Project writing: linkurl:Excerpt from "Code of Forgetting";http://www.humangenreproject.com/page.php?id=23 She was tall, and green-eyed, and red-haired, and fair; her limbs were long, and her fingers slim and tapered; she had a secret birthmark on her left hip, the one small blemish that had to mar absolute perfection lest it prove too [sic] be too much for her imperfect world to hold. All these things that were written in her DNA, passed down from ancestors like legacies, a memory written in code of four letters: A C G T. On those four letters rested everything that she was, or could become. --linkurl:Alma Alexander;http://www.almaalexander.com/ linkurl:"Chromosome 13";http://www.humangenreproject.com/page.php?id=29
Image: Wikimedia commons
This chromosomal Usual Suspects line:
Tentacle arms in I surrender pose; Look closer, though: each is made of zips.
The microtubal slider is drawn down Their lines sag open, yawn, and through
These smallest needle-eyes emerge Men, elephants and whales; bulked biospheres:
A meta boa's swallow in reverse. This isn't a surrender: they've all won.
The arms are up in celebration.
--linkurl:Adam Roberts;http://www.adamroberts.com/ In addition to an open call for submissions, MacLeod extended a few pointed invitations, including one to Roberts and another to microbiologist-turned-writer linkurl:Alma Alexander.;http://www.almaalexander.com/ "It's been kind of fun to go back to the science," Alexander says. Roberts, whose background is in the humanities, was similarly enthused by the project. After a quick Wikipedia search and a bit of reading about what chromosomes do, he penned a poem and a short story called The Chrome Chromosome to the project. "There is a great wealth of popular science writing for non-experts like me," he says. "It's not hard to figure out the basics." Alexander's inspiration was a bit more personal. After watching her godmother's mother slip deeper into the dementia that would eventually take her life, Alexander decided to write a story entitled "The Code of Forgetting" about the genetics of senility. "I could have picked a lot of things but that one resonated," she says. "One of the great joys of science fiction is that it's both the science and the fiction," Roberts says. "It takes what might otherwise be dry, factual, scientific data and enables writers to do something interesting with that." The Human Genre Project "seems like a marvelous project," Swanwick agrees. "Having the genome mapped is only a couple of years old so we're all very unfamiliar with the content. I think it's really a wonderful entry into understanding the genome." Presenting the information in such an informal way also makes it easier for nonscientists to digest, Alexander says. "There's always this astonished stare when you tell people you're only a couple of base pairs away from a chimpanzee or for that matter a dolphin," she says. "But ease them into it by a story or a poem, and they'll start thinking about it in a whole different way."
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Minding the human genome gap;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55754/
[9th June 2009]*linkurl: Rhyme and reason;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53489/
[17th August 2007]*linkurl:The Human Genome Project +5;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/23065/
[ February 2006]
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Comments

Avatar of: Robert Speth

Robert Speth

Posts: 1

July 24, 2009

In 2000 I wrote a playful semiphilosphical poem, "The Genome Poem". It is published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics: (2003)120A: 308.\n\nIt was written in response to the statement of Craig Venter "The complexities and wonder of how the inanimate chemicals that are our genetic code give rise to the imponderables of the human spirit should keep poets and philosophers inspired for the milleniums." as well as in response to a seminar given by Francis Collins in which he questioned to what extent our genome could serve as a predicter of our destiny.
Avatar of: DENNIS HOLLENBERG

DENNIS HOLLENBERG

Posts: 26

July 24, 2009

Her statement "All these things that were written in her DNA, passed down from ancestors like legacies, a memory written in code of four letters: A C G T. On those four letters rested everything that she was, or could become." ignores the larger issue of the dynamics underlying and organizing development.\n\nTo state, as the gene-centrist and blindered dogma holds, that the gene accounts for (or equally short-sighted, "controls") behavior, development, etc., exhibits an exhilaratingly profound institutional ignorance peculiar to intellectually exhausted institutions.\n\nPlease see my "On the evolution and dynamics of biological networks" Revista di Biologia/Biology Forum 100(1) 93-118 (2007).\nHollenberg
Avatar of: Robert Von Borstel

Robert Von Borstel

Posts: 10

July 26, 2009

-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 ? 1832): "Science arose from poetry -- when times change, the two can meet again on a higher level as friends."\n\nGoethe said it first.
Avatar of: D REID WISEMAN

D REID WISEMAN

Posts: 4

July 31, 2009

During the fusion of our parent's gametes in the upper or lower reaches of either the left or right Fallopian tube of our mothers, 6 trillionths of a gram of nuclear, zygotic DNA unite No need here to weigh the maternal, mitochondrial DNA. Multiply these 6 picogramns by the present, global human population of 6.7 billion. Thusly, a little more than 0.04 grams of zygotic DNA has been decoded into the present madding crowd of humans. Some demographers have estimated that 50 to 100 billion people have had their brief tenure on Carl Sagan's "mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." Thusly, 0.3 to 0.6 grams of zygotic DNA represent a first-pharisaical approximation of the human gene pool. A metal, No. 1 paper clip weighs 0.5 grams. What may we conclude about our anthropocentricism? Ecce homo!

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