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?