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The Virus(es) Inside Me

July 26, 2011 at 9:29 pm

My friend E. E. Giorgi — writer, mathematician, photographer, geneticist — has started a new series of blog posts about genetics and "junk" DNA.  I'm looking forward to reading the entire series, because genetics if fascinating to me, but my knowledge of it is still stuck in 10th grade.  (There wasn't much room for biochemistry in my schoolin'.  More's the pity.)

For a long time I've wondered when somebody will get around to inventing a machine that's a cross between a player piano and a biochemical reactor.  The genome has just four letters in it, right?  So I picture this tiny little piano keyboard with just four keys on it.  You could load it up with a 19-mile long paper tape of, say, the genome of a cat, and then turn the crank.  The Genome Player Piano would merrily whir away, playing atonal and discordant music:

plink plink plink tink-a-pink gong gong gong honk plink honk honk tink-a-gong plink plink honk...

...until a cat popped out on the other end.

Okay.  Maybe that's not precisely how modern genetics works.  But it should, damn it.  Because that would be pretty awesome.  Also, let's face it:  the flying monkey will always be the Holy Grail of genetic engineering.  It's practically the Higgs Boson of the field.  Isn't it?


EEGiorgi July 26, 2011 at 9:48 pm
Hey, that's brilliant Ian! I wonder, though, would four keys really be enough? Hmmm, that's food for thought! Thanks so much for posting the link!
Steve Halter July 27, 2011 at 8:53 am
That does look like it will be an interesting series. Every now and then we get a Mayo grad student at fencing who can give me a quick understanding of what's going on in DNA research. My (imprecise) understanding is that the really hard problem is how various protein molecules interact with the DNA to trigger or suppress the genes. Hmm, yes I would put flying monkey creation right up there near the top of the list. Of course, if monkeys get wings, then the cats are going to demand them also.
Scott Denning July 27, 2011 at 2:08 pm
In the garage of the house next door to where I grew up, there was an old player piano. We used to pound around on it -- I would use it to score and punctuate ghost stories I told the younger kids. Funny thing about that old piano, it was a brand I had never heard of before or since: GATTACA. Huh. Your choice of critter to create is apt, because a cat is the only creature I can think of that you can produce from the letters C, A, T, and G. Leaving only the G -- "C'mere, little Guanine! How's my snookums today?" 'Guanine' sounds like 'guano' which leads me to suggest that, before you get the flying monkey machine cranking, you should invest heavily in hat companies. Broad-brimmed, sturdy, poop-resistant hats. Flying monkeys would bedevil the world, cackling in evil glee as they directed their dung upon the masses below, 32 feces per second per second. Maybe the fruit grower's associations will pay you protection money, to keep the thieving from their groves. Now flying cats would transform the world in a wholly wonderful way, turning public squares everywhere into aerodromes. Imagine sitting at a table in an outdoor cafe, sipping your beverage and betting on which pigeon will next get stooped upon (not pooped upon, as with a monkey) by an ace tabby. We would have to start calling such aerial combat 'catfights' rather than dogfights. But what -- no tiny winged giraffes?
Richard July 27, 2011 at 10:04 pm
I think we need to create a little web app that will actually play various decoded genomes. It will be boring, but I bet it gets a shit-ton of hits.
Shane July 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm
Fun fact: Guanine sounds like guano because it was first isolated from guano!
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