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DNA Art

December 13, 2010

Torah Kachur

I think DNA is beautiful, I mean really really beautiful.  It is elegant in its simplicity and complicated in its use.  For me, the appreciation of the esthetic of the original model made by Watson and Crick is as artsy and creative as I get. 

 

                    Torah kachur Watson and Crick DNA model

 

So when I hear of amazing artists using DNA to make rabbits glow with Green Fluorescent Protein or a picture of a gel as artwork on your walls I get mad-jealous (it's also something you can get for the hard to buy on your list).  But the artsy community is fickle and those ideas are passe, the new rage in DNA art is poetry.  Not poetry about DNA, poetry in DNA.  Yes, if you are clever enough to make a poem from four letters (A, T, C, and G) you can, in theory, splice your poem into an organism and voila - it's poetry in vivo.  It might look something like CAT AT ...okay, that's all I got.

 

Artists have recently invented a biological 'cipher' that takes DNA sequences as 2 or 3 base pair segments and ascribes different pretty pictures to them, representing a 'decoded' piece of art. 

 

       

 

But the granddaddy of all DNA poets is Christian Bök, who will attempt to write a poem out of the four letter bases, synthesize the sequence, then splice it into Deinococcus radiodurans, a particularly hardy type of bacterium.  Every artist wants his or her work to persist and be around for generations, but this might be a little indulgent.  The choice of bacteria was made because these little dudes are particularly resistant to mutations caused by radiation. This will ensure the poem will persist indefinitely. 

 

If that wasn't just a little ambitious, not to mention nutzo, Mr. Bök is also trying to make the poem biologically relevant.  Parts of DNA, the genes, can be made into proteins.  These proteins are made up of 20 different types of amino acids and all of them have a single letter symbol.  For example, lysine is K while arginine is R.  If the DNA poem Mr. Bök comes up with is translated, he wants it to encode a second poem in the sequence of amino acids of the protein.

 

In my opinion, this isn't possible.  It will likely not be possible to create meaningful words (let alone sentences) in DNA that can also encode different amino acids.  But, I admire the effort and certainly the creativity.  I've been studying DNA for over a decade and not once have I ever thought of writing poetry in it.  Cursing at it maybe, revering it for sure, but never poetry.  Nor have I ever considered folding it into smiley faces....I guess my artistic career has ended before it has even begun. 

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