“It is possible that our children's children will know cancer only as a constellation of stars." Bill Clinton, US President

‘Cancer may soon be a thing of the past’. Daily Express, UK, on the mapping of the Human Genome

"It would surprise me enormously if in 20 years the treatment of cancer had not been transformed."  Dr Mike Stratton, Cancer Genome Project, 2001

‘One theory says that cancers are rampant embryonic cells. Thus the ill-discipline of cancer and the discipline that turns a zygote into an animal with a multitide of tissue types, all perfectly positioned, seem to reflect opposite sides of the same coin. The abnormality of cancer should throw light on the normality of embryo development, and vice versa.’ Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell, Colin Tudge, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

‘Modeling of human cancer in genetically engineered mice and genome-wide measurements of mRNA expression have now been combined to accelerate the search for new molecularly targeted therapies against cancer. Looking forward, we propose a community-wide systematic effort to model and characterize an array of different cancer-related aberrant signaling pathways in several mouse models of cancer.’ Nature, 2006

‘Research into the human genome has highlighted dozens of genes which may influence the growth of cancer cells. Scientists believe that some may provide promising avenues for new drugs and treatments. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago found genes which appear to be linked with the growth of cancer cells, but not of normal cells. In all, 57 genes appeared to have some role in cell growth. The research team worked by cutting up human DNA into tiny fragments, inserting these into cancer cells and inducing them to start expressing their genetic information. The team then waited to see what happened to the cell in question. They found that some of the fragments were able to inhibit the multiplication of breast cancer cells by shutting down the genes necessary for cell growth. Some of the genes identified were already known to play a role in cell growth - but others were fresh finds. Professor Igor Roninson, who led the study, said: "Many of the genes were not previously known to be involved in cell division and proliferation. "In fact, the functions of some of these genes were entirely unknown." To test the importance of these genes further, mice were bred, each lacking a specific gene - in all, 20 of the 57 were tested in this way. The lack of six of these genes led the animals to die prior to birth, but the remainder matured to adulthood, suffering limited problems in specific organs. Professor Roninson said that the ultimate aim was to find a gene which inhibited cancer growth - but had little or no effect on normal cells. "The genes we have identified clearly have the potential to serve as targets for novel therapeutics in the fight against cancer." BBC, 2003

The Word of Cancer

Ghastly process - gross transmogrification -

perversion of life’s urge, passion for growth;

mutated energy, love turned hate, but power

maintained - preserved in worsening forms -

parasitysing its own body; infesting tissue,

interfering - reading innaccurately corrupt

script; vandalised poem - a great work of art

brought down by philistine cells, aping craft,

daubing the Genome, blacking her lights;

stripping the skin of poetry beyond bone -

musical lyrics into limmericks, doggerel, curses,

offensive to the body’s ear. Of wicked intention,

demons of sickness spreading their word,

polluting the voice of the Genome’s own

defences, internal, built-in doctors, specialists;

her sparkling diagnoses, self-generating cures.

The word of cancer corrupts the flow of poetry -

is black and secretive - a lurking, obscene thing;

dark palgiarist using the good tools, hijacking -

manifestation of the Anti-poem, being anti-life.

‘There he explored a range of everyday materials that could damage chromosomes and so (in some cases) trigger cancer. He realised then that cells in cancers are particularly flexible. They may begin as specialised, differentiated cells – and then their nature changes completely as the cancer progresses. So, as he says, ‘If you open up a tumour you find all sorts of tissues in there! Hair, nails, bits of bone, fat, muscle – all sorts of things! So obviously the supposed programming of the cells has gone completely haywire.’ Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell, Colin Tudge, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

Such grossness polluting the processes

of life; this dissected tumour with hair,

nails, grotesque tissue formation;

Anti-baby, mockery of growth –

mind cultivating fear of the alien –

inhabiting our own body; invader

hatching something, utilising mechanisms,

building bad cell by commandeered cell -

in perverted interpretation of creation.

Making something come present here

which should not be; curses, incanted 

expletives in our Genome’s grammar.


What burden the little word cancer;

cursed noun, dictionary blacksheep -

trying to hide, nestling among cancan

kicking her frills, Cancun basking hotly;

lurking blackly under gorgeous candela,

a Latin measurement of light intensity -

feared, whispered surreptiously;

in years past, called ‘The Big C’

as if such chummy familiarity

might turn it more jocular, fair.

Five letter constellation burning

black holes, writing on the wall;

resonating - haunting hearts,

in fear and actuality, spoken;

guts turning over - explosive grief

at its dark flowering; now revealed

message, result - intrinsic processes

warped; mechanisms to be corrected.


Cancer stole my grandparents before I knew them;

Grandma nearly died aged 18, sent away to expire

somewhere of leukaemia - in a cottage still there -

but surviving against all known odds; Death returning

with his scythe - cheated, angry - black-hooded movie

character, to kill her again, aged 65, properly this time.

All of us alive blossoming from this miraculous era

in between - this unexpected family; even outliving

her husband - his terrible death - burned in agonies

of the cancerous body. It took his mouth and throat,

his eyes – it took his eyes, that filthy fucking illness,

cursed script. Such sickness as is evil - parasitysing

the Genome’s holiness, as corrupting power, force;

and my young father forced to say: ‘Yes, of course

you’ll get better, everything is going to be fine, until

blindness, because that was the policy then, to shield

against bad knowledge - to go on hopelessly hoping;

until the Gnome was a silver fish thrashing ashore -

caught in the nets of organic death; ruined,

her garment, wondrous body, work of art –

unable to sustain his prize music any more.


Corrupted process; production line

making babies mutated - perverted

into forming corpses; harnessing a

cell’s energy into slavery, insanity;

crazy reproduction without a pattern;

the Genome’s elegant formal dance -

a free-for-all, scrum - unseemly orgy

of multiplication, disruption, warping;

until the poem is interrupted,

desecrated, ruined, dissonant;

body rots, flounders - suffers

under attack by friendly fire.

‘Pierre [Curie] studies the effects of radium on animals, and found that by destroying diseased cells it could offer a treatment for growths, tumours and certain forms of cancer. The Curies could have patented their production technique, and beome rich. However, they decided it would be contrary to the scientific spirit.’ Faber Book of Science, 2005

‘First, comparison of disease-associated expression profiles among evolutionary distant species can reveal specific gene expression signatures that are likely to be of importance in deciphering the molecular pathogenesis of human cancer. Second, in combination with similar studies using mouse models, they suggest that the use of animal models to study human tumors would benefit from genome-wide profiling with cross-species validation to identify the disease models that most closely mirror the human cancer. Once a zebrafish cancer model has been validated, as Lam et al. have done with their hepatocellular cancer model, it will be possible to exploit with confidence all of the advantages of the zebrafish system, including the ability to rapidly screen candidate therapeutics.’ Nature, 2006

Most rapid advance, discovery, techniques

discovered now;twenty first century, post-

mapping of the Human Genome - to look

into the most distant past; primaeval eras

when we were single-celled organisms, fish -

leaving our traces like Gretel’s bread to find

ourselves again through mutating, adapting time;

trace cell mechanisms conceived so ingeniously

by life while we were still under sea, dreaming

of heavy limbs more obviously of earth - than

this silver body; more clearly made of stars,

which fell to original sea, and breath of life.


Will we be humble, then, before the fish -

mouse born into medical slavery; piously

demonstrating cancer with their own bodies -

simpler genomes, faster passing of whole lives.

Will we know then it is true - brotherhood,

familial relations - because this is possible.

Will we honour them, fellow Earth citizens;

give them names, good burial, appreciation.

‘Proteomics is the study of the function of all expressed proteins. Tremendous progress has been made in the past few years in generating large-scale data sets for protein-protein interactions, organelle composition, protein activity patterns and protein profiles in cancer patients. But further technological improvements, organization of international proteomics projects and open access to results are needed for proteomics to fulfil its potential.’ Nature, 2003


‘It is no accident that the immortal cell lines used by scientists in the laboratory are derived from cancer patients. The most famous of them, the HeLa cell line, originated in the cervical tumour of a patient named Henrietta Lacks, a black woman who died in Baltimore in 1951. Her cancer cells are so wildly proliterative when cultured in the laboratory that they often invade other laboratory samples and take over the petri dish…HeLa cells were used for developing polio vaccines, and have gone into space. Worldwide, they now weigh more than 400 times Henrietta’s own body weight. They are spectacularly immortal. Yet nobody, at any time, thought to ask Henrietta Lack’s permission or that of her family - who were hurt when they learnt of her cellular immortality. In belated recognition of a ‘scientific heroine’, the city of Atlanta recognises 11th October as Henrietta Lacks day…HeLa cells have excellent telomerase. If antisense RNA is added to HeLa cells – that is, RNA containing the exact opposite message to the RNA message in telomerase, so that it will stick to the telomerase RNA - then the effect is to block the telomerase and prevent it working. The HeLa cells are then no longer immortal. They senesce and die after about 25 cells divisions. Cancer requires active telomerase.  A tumour is invigorated with the biochemical elixir of youth and immortality. Yet cancer is the quintessential disease of ageing. Cancer rates rise steadily with age, more rapidly in some species than others, but still they rise... The prime risk factor for cancer is age.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000

Henrietta Lacks Day

‘Worldwide, HeLa cells now weigh more than 400 times Henerietta’s own body weight’

“It comes to me like wine in water,

milky blood - this ferocious living;

a blurred photograph, volumeless sound -

maybe some unfocused frog-mother-love,

for just so many comma’d spawn -

dandelion’s starry flotilla-children.

I have escaped, even from myself -

they have set me free without asking,

like those slaves afraid of freedom -

invaded my untimely death with life.

But I am no ghost, not insubstantial,

rattling chains, haunting my places -

hardly anything is as much alive as me;

my body - hair, clothes - are not a peg

to hang myself; I wear a blue sky coat -

my skirt is green grass, my eye the lake

swallowing wet moons, where people

drink the pure white water for power.

I feel infinity’s bright fuel; immortality,

as if I could exhale and stars come out -

sparkling dust in gas clouds

eager to make new worlds -

I am giantess, legend; if I sneezed,

the whole Universe might explode.

I inhale; trees bend, then burning leaves

roar forth from my mouth - like autumn

I am where death and life collide -

inside me once was this little place;

they have exploded me, multiplied

my recipe - set this living passion

for death free, thinking it has

nothing more to do with me -

I am the reverse of an amputee,

suffering those invisible itches;

I am gone but still here,

always enough of me -

written in the sparkling strings,

to make each cell still my own.

Each one is autographed -

each one is like a funeral.

If they had warned me, I would have known -

been prepared for this life dragged out of death;

when I heard the echo of myself - it was my voice,

crying like a choir; when the original words of me,

coiled in every cell, spoke my unique sentence,

I thought I had loosened the dreams of the dead;

dreams they still have of the living world,

invading minds of loved ones left behind;

that fluttering inside their eyelids -

kisses of the dead for the sleeping

as they hover inside warm brains.

Yes, I believe I feel them better -

my loved ones, can hone myself to them,

boosting the signals with the noisy rest-

of-my-cells bustling like bees in my mind;

they are impersonal me, just like my name

in a census, Social Security number, height,

weight - the reduction of me - but infinitely

expanding. I can swat big swarms of myself

away and be only Henrietta - still so in love

with my family; and I can love the people,

not even born, I will save in the far future.

God tells me I’m more the sort of saint

He had in mind than many stepping out

in their haloes - I joke and say He’d better

prepare me a big, big seat; and I hope He’s

got a good big room left, and He says He’d

check ‘cos Mother Theresa had the Deluxe

suite booked - then the colossal spread of me,

being in so many cells, doesn’t feel so lonely.

And every year, of course, I can cancel everything

to celebrate -  hurrah for her, Henrietta Lacks Day!


‘Scientists have launched a major international initiative to systematically uncover the function of each of our genes. They hope it will provide vital information about how cancer disrupts the normal functioning of our cells - and lead to new drug treatments to stop this happening. The Human Genome Project has enabled scientists to identify all the genes that make up mankind. But the next stage is work out what each of these genes do. This has been made possible by the discovery of a process called RNA interference which is used by the body to switch off individual genes while leaving all others unaffected. The charity Cancer Research UK and the Netherlands Cancer Institute plan to join forces to exploit this knowledge to inactivate almost 10,000 genes one at a time in order to find out precisely what they do - and how they might contribute to cancer's development. Sir Paul Nurse, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "Despite the massive advances in sequencing the DNA in the human genome, the function of most of our genes remains a mystery. The next big challenge for scientists is to find out exactly what they're all doing, so we can work out which of them are playing important roles in cancer and other diseases. Such an endeavour has never before been possible, because dissecting out the function of a single gene from around 35,000 is extremely difficult. But thanks to the incredible discovery of RNA interference, we think we should now be able to crack the problem." RNA interference was first discovered in the obscure nematode worm. RNA plays a crucial role in de-coding information from the genes so that it can be used to build new proteins. But the nematode also uses tiny pieces of RNA to specifically switch off certain rogue genes that would otherwise cause it harm. Researchers have found that synthetically produced RNA sequences can be used to target genes in human cells. Scientists plan to use RNA interference to create cells in which all genes are fully functional bar one, and analyse how the loss of individual genes affects cell function…Lead researcher Dr Julian Downward said: "This project will help move forward the frontiers of medical science, from knowing the sequences of DNA that make up our genome, to knowing how these sequences work together to form a functional human being. Using RNA interference, we should be able to find out precisely what we need to take away from a cancerous cell in order to make it normal again - essentially we will be dismantling cancer at the level of its genes." An initial pilot study will look at 300 genes. If, as expected, it proves successful, the project will be rolled out to cover a further 8,000 or so. Eventually, the research may be extended to cover the entire human genome.’ BBC, 2003

‘DNA methylation has a role in the regulation of gene expression during normal mammalian development but can also mediate epigenetic silencing of CpG island genes in cancer and other diseases. Many individual genes (including tumor suppressors) have been shown to undergo de novo methylation in specific tumor types, but the biological logic inherent in this process is not understood. To decipher this mechanism, we have adopted a new approach for detecting CpG island DNA methylation that can be used together with microarray technology. Genome-wide analysis by this technique demonstrated that tumor-specific methylated genes belong to distinct functional categories, have common sequence motifs in their promoters and are found in clusters on chromosomes. In addition, many are already repressed in normal cells. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that cancer-related de novo methylation may come about through an instructive mechanism.’ Nature, 2006

Dismantling Cancer

Let us dismantle cancer,

as it dismantled you -

hair by hair -

atom by atom;

joy by hope by peace, despair;

draining you like a cut flower -

bursting chrysanthemum under sunlight -

to ethereal lily wilting beneath the moon,

moving agonisingly towards heaven,

even amid the passionate, odd jumble

of our inattentive, colourful world -

already haunting the sickened room.

Fly the red flag - RNA interference;

smart chemical full stop, off-switch,

like a black light going out,

freezing of the gene’s heart,

all its sequenced messaging -

how your white face flushes

in this flushed salmon evening,

falsely illuminating your skin - 

blood is rushing illustratively into the sea;

you’re pumping, rouged, smiling - rebuilt.

‘Scientists have invented a technique that will help researchers explore the last uncharted territory in the cells of the human body. The technique, developed by a team from the Cancer Research Campaign Research Centre at Manchester's Christie Hospital, will allow scientists to investigate the role of large sugar molecules, which are found in every single human cell. The technique has implications not only for cancer research but for the whole of biology. The Christie team believes that understanding the exact function of these sugar chains could lead to new ways of treating and curing disease - including the development of new anti-cancer drugs. Lead researcher Professor John Gallagher said: "Our findings represent real progress in this field of work and we believe that our methods will be used by scientists across the globe to push back the boundaries of international research.”…The sugar chains, called heparan sulphates, are vital for cells to function properly. However, scientists have never fully understood how they worked. In the past similar techniques for investigating DNA have helped scientists to sequence the human genome and find genes that are responsible for diseases such as cancer. But until now there was no equivalent method for examining these sugar molecules. Scientists know that these molecules come in a variety of shapes and sizes and that they contain instructions for a growing embryo and for day-to-day functioning in adult cells. But they are only beginning to understand how they work to control the behaviour of cells...Crucially, heparan sulphates are involved in how cells move and multiply and, since cancer occurs when these processes go out of control, the new sequencing technique may extend understanding of the disease. The research is part of an international effort, combining work done in Manchester, at the University of Birmingham, Uppsala University in Sweden and in The Adelaide Children's Hospital, Australia. Professor Gordon McVie, Director General of The Cancer Research Campaign said: "This is a very important piece of research because these complex sugar molecules really are the final frontier of biology. Professor Gallagher and his colleagues have created a vital tool for scientists around the world and developments like these are often followed by great scientific discoveries.” BBC News, 2001

Large Sugar Molecules

Swollen with instruction, potential motion -

large sugar molecules; sweetness in the cell

like a mouth of a flower, eager sucking bee.

Fuelling function, movement, multiplication;

driving the sugar chains - Heparan Sulphates

firing the firecracker child, or faltering adult.

How the taste of you comes to my lips -

like chemical-infested chocolate, nectar

tears, candied skin; buttery honey-light

on the scenes re-cast - so falsely illuminated

like a Hollywood tear, lacking proper shine -

when it was all about betrayal and disloyalty.

Programmed Cell Death

‘Two British scientists are to share the Nobel prize for medicine - Sydney Brenner and Sir John Sulston will share the award with US scientist Robert Horvitz. They are being recognised for their work into how genes control the division of the body's cells and the development of organs. This work has helped understanding of the development of many diseases, the Nobel Institute said in its citation. Among their discoveries is the genetic mechanism controlling the programmed death of cells at the end of their lives…shedding light on diseases such as cancer, where programmed cell death does not take place. And in conditions such as Aids, strokes and heart attacks, where cells are lost because of excessive cell death. …Sydney Brenner, 75, works at the Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, California, US. He has worked closely with Professor Francis Crick, one of the men who discovered the structure of DNA, the genetic material which contains the blueprint for life. He also established the existence of messenger RNA - which carries the genetic information from DNA to cells. The Nobel jury said he broke new ground by linking specific genetic mutations to particular effects on organ development. Sir John, 60, is the founder of the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, which was established in 1992 by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council to further understanding of the human genome. It has also been heavily involved in sequencing the DNA of a human in the Human Genome Project. Sir John found that particular cells in the developing worm will die through programmed cell death. He also demonstrated the first mutations of genes involved in that process. Robert Horvitz, 55, is based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He identified the first two "death genes" in the worms and showed that humans have a gene similar to one of them. Following this work, is it now know that most genes controlling cell death in the worms have counterparts in humans…"The discoveries are important for medical research and have shed new light on the pathogenesis [development] of many diseases," the citation says.’ BBC News, 2002

Programmed Cell Death

In the cell’s alpha,

also, its omega -

proper stories as we’re told,

with beginning, middle, end;

written before time

became measured -

job description and holy script -

purpose, path, narrative intention;

command encrypting in DNA,

appropriate chemical reponse -

unfolding the chapters in order,

right to closure of the last page,

big full stop - worming hole

to another place where DNA

needs no warm body poem expressed,

just is like a star, light, a field of love;

immune to corruption,

interference, ending –

but here in the Genome’s reading;

timely suicide - harvest, threshing,

good death at the ripened instant -

job done, story read; just once only.

But if the poem is ruined - words

dying before their time; foal legs

folding, meaning tumbling,

unhinging the whole work -

systems useless as ink pools

harvested from works of art;

and the same chemical mechanisms

sparking, spewing deadly nonsense -

potboiler grafting into Dostoevsky,

Hallmark greetings into WB Yeats;

corrupt contaminate murdering art,

denying death his dark dominion -

rightful peace; his golden harvest

of the ripe, told cell, its old stories

complete, now read aloud, so over.

If death could be injected; suicidal

impulse culled from the speaking gene -

another secret yielded, juiced, extracted;

so fundamental - mined from primaeval

soil, divine death mechanism - so godly.


How can we challenge Programmed Death -

in relationships women that way find disaster;

holding onto dying love is like touching snow -

broken children can’t glue parents back together.

Our time has come we say, our number’s up;

the ship sails and we cannot stay on shore -

but if the programmer was wrong, mistaken;

feeding wrong numerals, wonky sequences -

suicide among the cells misguided – glitch -

error message, inappropriate deletion, mental

paracetamol - and some recorded voice come

among the molecules, making everything well;

if death could now be seeded in this squad,

skull and crossbone clusters - ‘death genes’

sent among this family; terrible, beyond control,

all rabbiting multiplication, profligate extension,

population explosion at expense of vital organs -

hands with life and death tattooed on the opposite

fingers; messages of light and darkness understood

by mechanisms of heart, blood - dying brain pages.

‘We sometimes say, in extremis, that a person's life hangs by a thread. In fact, all our lives hang by a thread all the time. The thread in question is DNA, the medium through which we inherit our genetic destiny. DNA directs our growth and all of the vital processes on which we depend for survival. DNA is the thread of life, but is it also the thread of death? Does DNA control our end as it controls our beginning…When the first draft of the human genome was announced…the world's press rejoiced in the prospect of continuing, even accelerating, the postponement of death that had been the great success story of the 20th century. … And what are we to make of claims that even longer life spans are just around the corner? DNA plays a dual role in our lives. Like Theseus of old, it combines power and vulnerability - it is both master and servant of fate. On the one hand, DNA is the medium in which our genetic endowment is written. It is the information coded in our personal DNA sequence which we can probe for the presence or absence of particular gene variants - or polymorphisms - that might affect our future. Seen in this light, DNA plays a fixed role in each of our lives. Our interest is in the differences between one person's DNA and another's and in what these tell us about biological individuality. But our personal DNA is by no means as constant as we might wish. DNA is a working molecule to which our cells refer continually. It is not some dusty tome tucked away in the reference section of the cell but a hive of activity, more akin to a busy internet web site. Just like a web site, it experiences a continual stream of hits. Most of these hits are harmless requests for data, involving simply a readout out of a genetic string of A's, C's, G's and T's, like the bit strings of zeroes and ones that are downloaded from web sites. But some are real hits by agents of damage which result in lasting harm. It is these latter hits that cause the information coded in our DNA to become corrupted with the passage of time, and it may be these hits that cause us to age. If we look first at the vulnerable side of DNA, the bad news, I am afraid, is that even as I speak your DNA is in trouble. As I spoke the last sentence, the DNA in your body experienced literally billions of damaging hits. The attack rate on DNA has been estimated at 10,000 damaging hits per cell per day. Your body comprises about one hundred thousand billion cells, so the carnage is considerable…The villain that is doing most of this damage to your DNA is oxygen. We tend to think of oxygen as friend rather than foe, but it is dangerous stuff… .Not all of the damage to DNA is caused by oxygen, of course. There are other factors that regularly damage DNA, like sunlight or tobacco smoke. Nor is DNA the only target for free radicals - our membranes and proteins get hit too. But hits to our DNA are liable to have a lasting effect, because the occasional hit that fails to get repaired correctly can lead to a permanent alteration in the DNA sequence. In this respect, the very zeal with which the DNA repair systems guard against change can be our undoing, since once the sequence is changed, it is the new but erroneous sequence that becomes the object of protection’. BBCRadio 4, Reith Lecture, 2001

Genes under attack

Under attack; millennial wars against existence,

darkness fighting back against creative light -

violent streams, genetic grenades, artillery;

persistent footsoldiers of disease, viruses -

dangerous free radicals infiltrating states -

where harmonious rules have been written

for the benefit of all - the whole Genome -

defences always developing in the cold war

happening through time; from the sea,

swamp - struggling body of the worm.

Cuckoo sequence defended by a mother cell -

altered, gross; false witness, miniscule usurper

contaminating the whole, diminishing skin

like old apples, spines hooked like autumn

sunflowers - harvesting hair, teeth, metabolic

power; still smiling in our personal war zone.

‘Prodded by genes like ced-9, the unneeded cells commit mass suicide…The dying cells obediently follow a precise protocol…The relationship between body cells is indeed very much like that between bees on a hive…the problem of cancerous mutiny is so old that in all large bodied animals the cells are equipped with an elaborate series of switches designed to induce the cell to commit suicide if it should find itself turning cancerous…Whereas oncogenes cause cancer if they are jammed on, tumour-suppressor genes cause cancer if they are jammed off…the TP53  gene tells the cell to do one of two things: either to halt proliferation, stop relicating its DNA and pause until repaired; or to kill itself…bits of broken DNA seem somehow to alert p53…Little wonder that p53 has earned the nickname ‘Guardian of the Genome’, or even ‘Guardian Angel of the Genome’…The suicide of cells in this way is known as apoptosis, from the Greek for the fall of autumn leaves. It is the most important of the body’s weapons against cancer, the last line of defence.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000

P53, Guardian Angel of the Genome

In the warm dark sparkling universe of interior body,

a genetic angel is charged; waiting, conscious, alert -

rushing as the pigeon-response of exterior angels

arriving at despairing heads, trying to listen, hear

what redemptive words should mean, what comfort

be there; alterations to the burden and consequence

of thought, experience and action. Chemical doctor,

terrifyingly good - furiously protective - beautifully

adept, skillful. Chemical Guardian Angel, evolved

from the beginning; nano-cousin to Gabriel, full of

burning justice, powerful command and message –

cells tremble at its approach, looking to their work. 


Productive suicide on demand - that is needful harvesting

by an angel of the body; internal angel swimming arteries

as air-and-heaven angels inhabit sky, cruise among stars -

like the underground angels opening seed, coaxing roots;

molecular echo of beneficent winged creatures coded

in the darkest space - dim, dusty, pinioned, or spread;

unfurled, glorious as a Golden Eagle plunging to earth. 

Shining chemical poem, 1,179 letter long – christened,

unimaginatively, ‘p53’, as though something like a page

number - ready-indexed by the Genome to fight trouble -

an emergency service in the self-marshalling system –

sudden sparkling like external flashing lights, clusters

of aid; word of command written unerringly, leader

knowing what to do in such adverse circumstances -

but ethereal, too, in the bodily galaxy; appearing,

psychic, as messenger, healer - though muscular,

practical, tough angel - being also commander of death.

Angelic reader come to assess corrupted script, an error

message as computer doctors administer secret aid;

to see if sentences can be amended - grammatically

saved, healed into proper sense; or must be rubbed

from the Genome poem, scored out, if voluntarily -

preserving some interpretation of Free Will even here,

some power of word and language, impulse to happen.

Mysteriously called; another physical embodiment

of good principles of healing, improvement, health.


The luminosity of such interior systems can only be seen

in the dark around a touching hand - perceived heart halo

redly beating through the ear-pressed chest - but always

seen in the eyes, constituting that pilot light still burning.


As I call up to the sky, beyond stars and darkness,

so I call on the Angel of the Genome - its flaming

power, its final word. Where there is this fire

in my blood, its cool white touch will switch

on water – the bright poem of water purified -

through rock and loch, now part of me, as sea

became my blood - as I came from water and sea.

I understand this Angel’s language, the correction

of script; as supreme editor, ultimate judge -

where work is not acceptable, there is death.

Note from the author
exploring the project

    Gene Story
    Romantic Science
        Gene Therapy
        Stem Cells
    Some Special Genes
    X & Y

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