Reposted From “Recombinant Rhymer Encodes Poetry in DNA”

The below posted is content copied directly from this recent and fasincating post on that was too fascinating not to share:

By Bryan Gardiner Email Author March 22, 2010  |12:00 pm  |Wired April 2010

Illustration: Nishant ChoksiIllustration: Nishant Choksi

Canadian poet Christian Bök wants his work to live on after he’s gone. Like, billions of years after. He’s going to encode it directly into the DNA of the hardy bacteria Deinococcus radiodurans. If it works, his poem could outlast the human race. But it’s a tricky procedure, and Bök is doing what he can to make it even trickier. He wants to inject the DNA with a string of nucleotides that form a comprehensible poem, and he also wants the protein that the cell produces in response to form a second comprehensible poem. Here’s a peek at the hellish task this DNA Dante has condemned himself to.

Devise a cipher
Bök will create a code that links letters of the alphabet with genetic nucleotides (adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, aka ACGT). Each triplet of nucleotides will correspond to a letter so that, say, ACT represents the letter a, AGT represents the letter b, and so on.

Foresee the reply
Bök will have to choose his ciphers carefully, as his poem chemically ordains the sequence of amino acids that the bacteria will create in response. There are 8 trillion possible combinations, but depressingly few of them yield useful two-way vocabularies.

Write the poem
After using hand-coded software to determine which ciphers will give him the maximum two-way potential, Bök will finally start composing. He says his poem will probably need to have a “repetitive, incantatory quality.” We can imagine.

Insert the DNA
Once the poem is complete, lab technicians will string together the nucleotide polymers, creating a DNA fragment to insert into D. radiodurans. It’ll probably take several attempts to get the bacteria to accept the genetic info. Talk about publish or perish.


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