Note from the author
exploring the project

    The Human Genome Project (1)
    The Word
    Genetic Transcription
    & Translation
    Nature of the Genome
    All Life is One
        Comparative Genomics

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All Life is One

‘The three letter words of the genetic code are the same in every creature – CGA mean arginine and GCG means alanine in bats, beetles, beech trees, bacteria, even in archaebacteria living in boiling temps in sulphurous springs, or viruses - wherever in the world, whatever animal, plant, bug, you look at, if it is alive it will use the same dictionary and know the same code. All life is one. Seaweed is your distant cousin, and anthrax one of your advanced realtives. The unity of life is an empirical fact.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000

‘On these principles, I believe, the nature of the affinities of all organic beings may be explained. It is a truly wonderful fact – the wonder of which we are apt to overlook from familiarity – that all animals and all plants throughout all time and space should be related to each other…’  Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘And God made the beast of the earth AFTER HIS KIND, and cattle after their kind, and EVERY THING THAT CREEPETH UPON THE EARTH AFTER HIS KIND; and it was so.’ Genesis 1, The Bible

"We are confirming Darwin – that is the most useful take-home message from this. It is the unity of life, or nature being conservative, or the idea of the Blind Watchmaker – the notion of evolution as a constant reworking or random recombining of parts." John Sultston, Head, Human Genome Project, UK 

‘…several classes of facts…seem to me to proclaim so plainly, that the innumerable species, genera, and families of organic beings, with which this world is peopled, have all descended, each with its own class or group, from common parents.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘…genomes show just how closely related are all living things on Earth.. Although the last common ancestor of humans, fruit flies, worms and yeast lived over a billion years ago, there are still many genes we share that betray our common heritage.  Dr David Whitehouse, BBC Online Science Editor

‘There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally brethed [by the Creator] into a few forms or onto one… from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, Second Edition, 1859

‘…they all move about to produce one great work of making the animal and vegetable kingdoms subservient to each other. And all the plants growing upon the surface of the earth…absorb carbon; these leaves are taking up their carbon from the atmosphere to which we have given it in the form of carbonic acid, and they are growing and prospering… they live and rejoice. This piece of wood gets all its carbon, as the trees and plants get theirs, from the atmosphere, which, as we have seen, carries away what is bad for us and at the same time good for them… So are we made dependent not merely upon our fellow-creatures, but upon our fellow-existers, all Nature being tied together by the laws that make one part conduce to the good of another.’ Michael Faraday, A Course of Six Lectures on the Chemical History of the Candle, 1861

‘Reality cannot be found except in One single source, because of the interconnection of all things with one another.’ Leibniz, 1670

“This again reminds us of the unity of life - the fact that genes are not purpose-made for each organism, but rather evolution keeps on re-using its inventions over time.” Sir John Sulston, Head, UK Human Genome Project

‘From the first dawn of life, all organic beings are found to resemble each other in descending degrees…Thus we can account for the fact that all organisms, recent and extinct, are included inder a few great orders, under still fewer classes, and all in one great system.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘With this ambiguous earth/ His dealings have been told us… O be prepared my soul!/ To read the inconceivable, to scan/ The million forms of God those stars unroll/ When, in our turn, we show to them a Man.’ Alice Meynall, 1847-1922, Christ in the Universe

‘Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated.’ Rosalind Franklin

‘Science is not an isolated, autonomous, omnipotent castle but an organic part of our total world-view. That is why we all need to be conscious of it…Explaining the whole of nature is not a linear process directed downwards towards a single set of explanatory concepts. Thought is not a neat pile of bricks in which each is supported only by the one beneath it. Thought is not governed by this kind of graviation: its connections go in all directions.’  Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

All Life is One (1)

All life is one -

from the heart of water

hearing light,

music of the Word -

conjuring amoebae

with the art of chemistry,

spirit of creativity,

molecules of stars;

to the germ of LUCA,

Last Universal Common Ancestor -

master-pupil, staggering apprentice

of life’s holy principles;

artistry of life’s rebellion

against emptiness; nothing

lighting the complete darkness,

fate of burning planets,

but blue earth,

wet as an eye.

‘…the view which most naturalists entertain, and which I formerly entertained – namely, that each species has been independently created – is erroneous.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space.’ Albert Einstein

‘And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.’ Genesis 11, The Bible

‘All things the world that fill/ Of but one stuff are spun,/ that we who rail are still/ With what we rail at one:/ One with the o’er labour’d Power that through the breadth and length// Of Earth, and Air, and Sea,/ In men, and plants, and stones,/ Has toil perpetually,/ And struggles, pants, and moans…’ Matthew Arnold, 1822-88, From Empedocles on Aetna

‘All things are parts of one single system, which is called Nature; the individual life is good when it is in harmony with Nature.’

Zeno, 300 - 260 B.C.

All life is one -

from alchemising worm

proselytising soil

into muscle, skin,

from sea-born atoms,

manufactured in space,

beautifully mutating fish -

still dipped in star-shadow.

From soaring lizard, dinosaur,

angel and pterodactyl -

the unassuming shrew

who would make kings,

a genius beholding the skies,

composition of the very water,

seeing salt and ocean in red blood.

But never knowing until now,

in the golden, sparkling poetry of the Genome,

from the living mouth of science, such kindred -

even the green leaf opens brotherly palms,

maintaining our flower DNA, tree DNA -

expressed in our love of blue sky, light,

preserved love of being in water; Earth.

‘We are part of Nature as a whole whose order we follow.’ Spinoza, 1673

‘All things come out of the One and the One out of all things.’ Heraclitus, 500BC

All life is one -

the only full stops

now caused by man;

abhorred by God -

infecting the first principle

of creation,

life’s continuous script -

every lost word counted.

‘Humans and mice shared a common ancestor about 100 Myr ago. Despite the 200 Myr of evolutionary distance between the species, a significant fraction of genes show synteny between the two, being preserved within conserved segments. Genes tightly linked in one mammalian species tend to be linked in others. In fact, conserved segments have been observed in even more distant species: humans show  conserved segments with fish and even with invertebrates such as fly and worm. In general, the likelihood that a syntenic relationship will be disrupted correlates with the physical distance between the loci and the evolutionary distance between the species.  International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium

‘All forms that perish other forms supply…’ Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, 1733-34

‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.’ Revelation 1, The Bible

‘Before I was born out of my mother generations guided me,/ My embryo has never been torpid, nothing could overlay it.// For it the nebula cohered to an orb…/ Monstrous sauroids transported it in their mouths and deposited it/ with care.’ Songs of Myself, Walt Whitman 1819-88

‘And therefore now/ Let her, that is the womb and tomb of all,/ Great Nature, take, and forcing apart/ Those blind beginnings that have made me a man,/ Dash them anew together at her will/ Through all her cycles – unto man once more,/ Or beast or bird or fish, or opulent flower.’ Lucretius, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1809-1892

‘And further, by contemplating these Forms/ In the relations which they ber to man,/ He shall discern, how, through the various means/ Which silently they yield, are multiplied/ The spiritual presences of absent things…’. William Wordsworth 1770-1850, The Proper Place of Science, The Excursion

‘I have attempted  to show… that in all organisms throughout all time, that the nature of the relationship, by which all living and extinct beings are united by complex, radiating, and circuitous lines of affinities into one grand system…all naturally follow, on the view of the common parentage.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

My white hands outstretched

My pearl-white hands outstretched, luminous

in the smudged blue breath of early summer

evening - recall stars, starfish, flowers;

white bats, small wings, eagle-germs -

thalidomide angels, pale leaves opening;

ghost-webbed frog-fingers, giant mouse/

squirrel-hands - albino sea anemones, coral -

every hand of every man on the whole planet.


Suspended in the clear belly of blue water -

my mermaid arms, hands, overcome hurdles

of stunted webs, closed gills,

to abiding memories of fin -

otter-slip, scale-slide, iridescence

under pleasantly penetrating sun.

Dazzling, I slip, pink and silver

limbs pushing water molecules,

skilfully sending forth sealish body,

exhibiting sinuously little resistance.

‘In this way simple truths can be read from the book that is the genome: the unity of all life… We have no fossil record of the way life was four billion years ago. We have only this great book of life, the genome. The genes in the cells of your little finger are the direct descendents of the first replicator molecules; through an unbroken chain of ten of billions of copyings, they come to us today still bearing a digital message that has traces of those earliest struggles of life. If the human genome can tell us things about what happened in the primaeval soup, how much more can it tell us about what else happened during the succeeding four million millennia. It is a record of our history written in the code for a working machine.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000

‘Look round our World; behold the chain of Love/ Combining all below and all above./ See plastic Nature working to this end/… See Matter next, with various life endu’d,/ Press to one centre still, the gen’ral Good./ See dying vegetables life sustain,/ See life dissolving vegetate again:/ All forms that perish other forms supply,/ (By turns we catch the vital breath, and die)/ Like bubbles on the sea of Matter born,/ They rise, they break, and to that sea return./ Nothing is foreign: Parts relate to whole;/ One all-extending all-preserving Soul/ Connects each being, greatest with the least;/ Made Beast in aid .of Man, and Man of Beast;/ All serv’d, all serving! nothing stands alone;/ The chain holds on, and  where it ends, unknown..’ Alexander Pope, 1688-1744, An Essay on Man

‘Although we like to think we are special, our genes bring us down to Earth. DNA is what ties the entire living world together. It may well account for the extraordinary diversity among organisms but it also serves to underline their common origins - we all evolved from the same soup of chemicals.’ Monise Durrani, BBC Science, 2002

‘A Spirit of activity and life,/ That knows no term, cessation, or decay;/ That fades not when the lamp of earthly life,/ Extinguished in the dampness of the grave.’ Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792-1822, Queen Mab

‘Sir John Sulston, former director of the Sanger Centre, led the team which sequenced a third of the human genome. He says the findings of our genetic similarity to other organisms provided firm proof for the theories advanced by Charles Darwin on the unity of life.’ Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

‘There is grandeur in this view of life.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

‘A striking paradox that has emerged from Darwin’s way of approaching biological questions is that organisms, which he took to be primary expamples of living nature, have faded away to the point where they no longer exist as fundamental and irreplaceable units of life…Modern biology has come to occupy an extreme position in the spectrum of the sciences, dominated by historical explanations in terms of the evolutionary adventures of genes.’ Brian Goodwin, How the Leopard Changed its Spots, Phoenix, 1994

All Life is One (2)

Do you remember where you were -

the time they discovered all life is one;

the Human Genome’s sparkling

shroud of staggering organic life

found knitted to molecular earth -

embroidered with creatures, flowers.

When you learned you were part leaf -

seed, fish, mollusc, first mother worm; 

that beak, skeleton - wings of a bird

were yours too; your hands like bats,

mice - remembering that swim, at last

to solid crawling shore, every mammal.

What was it like that day you learned water

was our home - that murmuring deep calm

found yet in baths, oceans, swimming pools -

thought only coming from the personal womb,

not humming from the sea trapped in your veins,

alchemised to stuff of sap, iron-red salty blood –

listen at your wrist; that is the thud of sea -

pump of heaven, rhythm of moon and wave,

day and night, the brilliant fluttering of stars

through life and death, their dust made holy;

gaseously breathing these beings that are us,

were us, showering so bright out of darkness.

That sound is the noise of love’s organic recipe,

life’s beating clock - flesh and art of chemistry;

thrust of life into bleakness, realisation of principle,

space theories drawn, dance written, on black paper.

To hear the sound of that previous silence,

listen among rusty ashes of green forest -

where creatures, leaves, that should have been,

are dead and gone - re-cycling species wiped -

eradicated from the still-evolving scheme,

where medicines and cures, clean energy

and food, lay waiting only for discovery;

detect sounds of burned air, black earth -

nothing. That dark note stripped of any music

is the funeral march for the death of creativity,

which is the death of life, cutting of holy strings;

incomprehensible ever to the thoughts of Earth.

‘…there is one excellence in good music ... that sense of recognition, which accompanies our sense of novelty in the most original passages of a great composer. If we listen to a Symphony of CIMAROSA, the present strain still seems not only to recall, but almost to renew, some past movement, another and yet the same! Each present movement bringing back, as it were, and embodying the spirit of some melody that had gone before, anticipates and seems trying to overtake something that is to come: and the musician has reached the summit of his art, when having thus modified the Present by the Past, he at the same time weds the Past in the Present to some prepared and corresponsive Future. The auditor's thoughts and feelings move under the same influence: retrospection blends with anticipation, and Hope and Memory (a female Janus) become one power with a double aspect.’ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Life’s mighty mystery/sprang from eternal seeds in the elemental fire,/ self-animat in forms that fire annihilates;/ all its selfpropogating organisms exist/ only within a few degrees of the long scale rangeing from measured zero to unimagn’d heat… Robert Bridges, 1844-1930, The Testament of Beauty

‘Let it be borne in mind how infinitely complex and close-fitting are the mutual relations of all organic beings to each other, and to their physical conditions of life.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

Do you remember where you were

when you discovered your muscle

was kindred to lowly Nematode worm,

your biology bound to rustling mouse -

small brother bustling his nest among corn -

the art of life so long rehearsed and practised

it has raised itself to miracle, achieved true art;

expression of the divine principle of creativity -

each tree is a wizard, manipulating magic

of old sun and earth, water and chemistry;

as we make skin and hair, eye glass, nail,

from food, such fruit plumps, spun sweet,

so colourful, from light, enticing to seed -

all branches wands, green steeples pointing

to the source, like restless hands in prayer;

our flesh from sequenced earth, testifying

roots, continuing unfinished work of God,

communing with water, season, oxygen -

poetry written in bones and molecules -

feather and leaf, understood, read by all;

skeletal hogweed dying among hard frost

transforming back to a cold thing of stars,

captured by the art of ice which has no purpose

but beauty in expression of crystalline structure,

mathematical and magical, but appealing somehow

to the artist heart of everyone - which just happens.

Firefly stars shine in small galaxies for no reason –

firefly communication, love, could have been dull;

the iridescence of kingfisher, fish, beetle, peacock,

we yearn after but have not evolved, our eye-light

nearest to such heavenly imitation, but in the family

still - counting everything from very black beginning,

explosive first syllable - and whatever uttered it -

to come forth in darkness, express life’s principle

of creativity, fundamental interconnectedness of art,

would take a human mind lifetimes to contemplate -

that artistry, length of practice over four billion years,

to make my wired hand, my child’s hand firm within -

our eyes maintaining some light of original stars;

some species of pilot spark, still visibly burning.

‘We all use exactly the same language. This means – and religious people might find this a useful argument - that there was only one creation, one single event when life was born. Of course that life might have been born on a different planet and seeded here by spacecraft, or there might even have been thousands of kinds of life at first, but only LUCA survived in the ruthless free-for all of the primeval soup.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000

‘See Nature in some partial narrow shape,/ And let the Author of the Whole escape…’ Alexander Pope, 1688-1744, The Dunciad

‘The most interesting finding to emerge from genetic analysis over the past two decades has been the similarity of genes between different species, and their similar order along the chromosome.’ Demystifying Genomics,  Medical Research Council, UK 

‘Mysterious matter – mute, inscrutable,/ dark, indestructible stuff! Ever at the beck of form, it will furnish flesh/ for a flea or a flower; or fatten a worm; or fur a tiger. Not an atom is lost// from the plump planet’s curvaceous figure.’ James Clerk Maxwell

One root, one creature

One root - one creature;

wing, fin, hand and eye.

One tail, one scale, one skeleton,

one skull, one bone - one blood.

One flesh, one heart, one cell;

joining molecules, one DNA -

one light, one water, one chemistry;

one light, one darkness - one Word.

‘I know my soul hath power to know all things,/ Yet she is blind and ignorant in all:/ I know I’m one of nature’s little kings,/ Yet to the least and vilest things am thrall.’ Nosce Teipsum, SirJohn Davies, 1599

‘The crucial point is that life is not an accident or an alien invader but something which has grown out of the earth itself. The sharp divisions we make across this continuum reflect academic specialisations rather than unbreakable natural barriers.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

‘Nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution.’ Theodosius Dobzhansky, Biologist

‘I am tempted to give one more instance showing how plants and animals, most remote in the scale of nature, are bound together by a web of complex relations.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘Another half-century of work by armies of biologists may be needed before this key step of evolution is fully elucidated.’ David Baltimore, Nature, 2001

‘Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, however slight, and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual and will generally be inherited by its offspring.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘Many of these genes have surely evolved from genes that were present in common ancestors but have since diverged substantially. Indeed, one can detect more distant relationships by using sensitive computer programs that can recognize weakly conserved features. Using PSI-BLAST, we can recognize probable nonvertebrate homologues for about 45% of the 'vertebrate-specific' set.’ Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, 2001

Four billion years we have rehearsed ourselves

“This again reminds us of the unity of life - the fact that genes are not purpose-made for each organism, but rather evolution keeps on re-using its inventions over time.” Sir John Sulston, Head, UK Human Genome Project

Four billion years we have rehearsed ourselves -

We are the single unfeeling cell

gelling at last; coagulating water

and light - glueing molecules -

bequeathing our pattern,

won from millennia,

to our simple cell children.

We are the burrowing worm -

missing the wriggle, glistening

ooze, snuggle of our mud bed.

We are stem and leaf drinking

light through green palm faces,

sucking earth for invisible food,

dreaming the birth of flowers -

billions of years dreaming

to create just one orchid -

pulled from the chemistry,

sun-and-earth child, bee-love,

biology of converted corona.

Our arms remember the wing -

flying still in books and dreams -

melancholy eagles cry to us of loss;

our plain pink coats, minimalist fur,

miss the symbolic fire of tiger skin,

lion-halo, Saturday night peacock tail -

our lips slaver - teeth ripping meat -

clutching supermarket-hunted chicken

legs in bald, clawless Sunday paws.

We are paralysed reptiles parasitising sun,

frozenly warming sluggish winter blood,

experiencing feather roots in hot blades -

delicate girl-faced deer watching shy

on trembling ballet hoof, sparked red,

fired startling through wood shadows.

We are trees crippled at the knee by sea

wind, sipping always bitterness of salt,

spines streaming - holding out begging

Bombay arms - but dreaming still

of spring, exuberant buds nubbing,

bursting into shining sugared leaves.

We are the elaborate clustering of cells

three billion years ago; complex creatures

grown in the sudden Cambrian Explosion,

as if God became impatient

to see what happened next;

fresh rung of DNA’s ladder -

knowing life’s plastic recipe

could come to so much more;

art of chemistry not yet done -

missing men on such slow journeys;

needing love, art, celestial company -

so breathed intelligence, watering seed,

firing brains to write themselves faster -

wiring for words, composting the body,

hothousing the soul, pruning with death.

We are everything. In us, is written

the history of everything - legends

of species, forgotten myths, stories.

We are plant and animal,

robin, flower, lion, bear -

wings print our skeletons.

We are every single person

in every part of the world -

one blood, one family, one life;

no longer speaking our words

of green leaf, fur and claw -

but not forgotten, or erased;

all these incremental parts we’ve played

still written in our ancient scripted genes -

life’s communal, four billion-year language.

Believing ourselves the stars of life,

of Natural Selection, yet murdering

ourselves as we destroy the world -

because we are the Earth,

and everything in it is us;

all creatures and life, one.

The Word will become a lament,

Pibroch playing on a stone moor

to deaf chemicals, darker light -

the Word which made the eye,

hand, tiger, flower, child skin -

after four billion years of births,

could not bear to start again with water,

blank molecules; we will leave our love,

haunting the dead planet - like a ghost. 

‘Thus Proetus sung…That Knowledge now is at the best no more,/ But a Research of what we knew before…’ William Diaper, 1686-1717, Nereides: or Sea-Eclogues

‘It is important to remember that, at the time Darwin was writing, the laws of genetics had not been established. The descent of characteristics and their distribution within a family, tribe, or species could be observed, but not technically accounted for.’ Gillian Beer, Introduction, Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (1859), Oxford University Press, 1998

‘But of this frame the bearings, and the ties,/ The strong connections, nice dependencies,/ Gradations just, has thy pervading soul/ Look’d thro’? or can a part contain the whole?/ Is the great chain, that draws all to agree, / And drawn supports, upheld by God, or thee?’ Alexander Pope, 1688-1744, An Essay on Man

Species         Genes

Man                    20-25,000

Mouse                                        20-25,000

Nematode worm                     19,000

Yeast           6,000

Tuberculosis microbe          4,000

Roundworm                              19,098

Fruit fly                                      13,602 

‘The homeodomain is similarly expanded in all animals and is present in both architectures that are conserved and lineage-specific architectures. This indicates that the ancestral animal probably encoded a significant number of homeodomain proteins, but subsequent evolution involved multiple, independent expansions and domain shuffling after lineages diverged.’ International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium

All living things are related.

Among humans, DNA differs by just 0.1%

Man and mouse share 99% of their genes.

Science binds us; we are all, weirdly, relations.


Science has bound us -

brothers and sisters with all living things,

blinding simplicity

expressed in extravagant complexity;

magic recipe, formula,

hypothesised by God -

tried and tested,

developed by life.

The Roundish Flat Worm

‘The time of the Cambrian explosion was a time of free experimentation in body design…. It was probably the moment when the first homeotic genes were invented by one lucky species of animal from which we are all descended. This creature was almost certainly a mud-burrowing thing, known - with delicate contradiction - as the Roundish Flat Worm, or RFW.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000

The Roundish Flat Worm

Queen and president, prime minister and poet,

Artist, musician, genius and dunce -

All descended from the Roundish Flat Worm,

(known as ‘RFW’ by boffins for short, though it didn’t know it).

Our common ancestor that liked nothing better

Than burrowing down in Cambrian mud,

Smug in the knowledge its genes were the winners,

Dressed in the genetic equivalent of the Tour de France sweater;

I suppose if one day you’ll look like Cameron Diaz, George Clooney,

Viggo Mortensen playing Aragorn, Brad Pitt’s rippled middle,

Score a great goal for Scotland, inherit the earth,

It doesn’t much matter if you get given a silly name by some loony.

Sea Urchin Genome Confirms Kinship to Humans and Other Vertebrates…researchers describe the 814 million DNA bases that make up the genome of the purple sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Its 23,500 genes suggest that these algae-eating invertebrates have more complex immune and sensory systems than researchers had appreciated…Vertebrates share specific features of embryonic development with the sea urchin….The sequencing of the sea urchin moves us a further step away from the past, when the analysis of an individual gene was a breathtaking achievement, toward a future where we will be following multidimensional changes in gene networks and relating them to the world around us.’ Science, 2006 

Making Starfish

Just where I have rested my hand

on the shore here - golden sand’s

chimeric body, granular, shifting,

symbolic molecules; among sea’s

baby pink nails - the print is silver,

blinding star shape sun-cast, held

in closed-eye reddened darkness.

Watch now, water will coagulate,

slowly form fingers,

part-star, part-fish -

becoming my hand in time.

The genomes are compatible -

starfish, Asteroidea, will lay

on the beach like cold hands.

‘If one considers attentatively the radiant spider/ (momentarily moved behind a purple cumulus of aster/ but emerging now, the legs outspread in rays,/ eight spoked surved from a center scintillant like an asterisk/ spaced on pale paper) one sees are starwise…She is silent, too, as they, as still as the stony light of an extinct star/ that comes to us late like the flower of the dinosaur’s footprint/ or the spiral bouquet of an ammonite’s filigree sutures/ since Mesozoic days preserved impeccable under sea-glass.//… they say that matter is music and sings with iridescent voice/ like water moving polychromatic from stone to stone.’ Dorothy Donnelly, Spider Compared to Star

‘Industrially, yeast is important in brewing, winemaking, baking and many other processes. Scientifically, it has been thoroughly studied because it is a primitive representative of higher organisms (such as plants, animals and humans).’ Demystifying Genomics, Medical Research Council, UK, 2000

‘For example, 35 proteins are known to be involved in the vacuolar protein-sorting machinery in yeast. Human genes encoding homologues can be found in the draft human sequence for 34 of these yeast proteins…Hundreds of similar stories emerge from the draft sequence.’ International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, Nature

No wonder so many people are full of hot air.” Gillian Ferguson, Poet, The Human Genome: Poems on the Book of Life

‘If a fly, a worm and a mustard weed can get by with 13,000, 18,000 and 26,000 genes, respectively, how many genes are needed to specify a human being? Previously, numbers up to and beyond 150 000 have been bandied about. However, in something of a blow to our collective ego, it appears that there are only 30-40 000 human genes. Proteins encoded by these genes can be grouped into families on the basis of their similarity to one another, and it turns out that we share most of the same protein families with worms, flies and plants…’ Where are all the genes?, Wellcome Trust

The New Relations

It’s quite hard once you discover

That slug on the doorstep is actually your brother -

One wrong move letting the cat out before your kip,

The new family member is over in a particularly squishy slip;

I’ll have to think twice about language around midgies -

‘Leave us just some epidermis, dear tiny cousins, please’.

I must confess it’s easier to feel much happier

About being related to furry things - the lion, tiger;

I just can’t seem to get jolly, sigh,

About our close similarity to the fly -

But what kind of person sticks legs of relatives to paper coated in glue,

Splats them with newspapers, deliberately electrocutes them too?

And I suppose sister nits have got to live somewhere,

(If only it wasn’t in children’s hair) –

Just one call to the council wasp nest exterminator,

You’re author of a genocidal massacre;

One wee squirt of anti-bacterial cleaner -

A million bacteria babies murdered, could you be any meaner…?


Well, I suppose everyone likes some relations more than others -

We’ll just have to get used to slaters, earwigs, as sisters and brothers,

And if you think of being made, as a kid, to kiss related women,

With warts under make-up, puckered lips, witchy bristled chin -

A hug from a slug - froggy snog - locking lips with a boisterous oyster -

Cuddle from a mucousy mussel mother, meeting mouths with a licky lobster,

Suddenly doesn’t seem so gross -

It’ll take a bit of getting used to, of course;

But looking at some of the human family, you know,

Maybe I’d rather spend Christmas with a black widow.