‘Representative human proteins were previously known for nearly all of the vertebrate-specific families. This was not surprising, given the anthropocentrism of biological research. However, the analysis did identify the first mammalian proteins belonging to two of these families. Both of these families were originally defined in fish. The first is the family of polar fish antifreeze III proteins. We found a human sialic acid synthase containing a domain homologous to polar fish antifreeze III protein (BAA91818.1). This finding suggests that fish created the antifreeze function by adaptation of this domain. We also found a human protein (CAB60269.1) homologous to the ependymin found in teleost fish. Ependymins are major glycoproteins of fish brains that have been claimed to be involved in long-term memory formation. The function of the mammalian ependymin homologue will need to be elucidated.’ "International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium" International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, Nature, 2001

‘We whisked our fins in many a sea/ For aeons were we felt a wish/ For life on land; now here are we/ Whisking our flies to snare the fish.’ The Angler on His Ancestry, Thomas Thornely, 1855-1949

‘Among the scaled fish one Devonian group seems to have held the secret of the future. These were the varieties that had paired fins and lungs, enabling them, if stranded by seasonal drying, to shuffle back to the water. From them, so far as we know, is descended the whole train of the land vertebrates.’  Jacquetta Hawkes, A Land, Cresset Press, 1951

‘Fish are socially intelligent creatures who do not deserve their reputation as the dim-wits of the animal kingdom, according to a group of leading scientists. Rather than simply being instinct-driven, the group says fish are cunning, manipulative and even cultured.The three experts from the universities of Edinburgh, St Andrews and Leeds said there had been huge changes in science's understanding of the psychological and mental abilities of fish in the last few years. Writing in the journal Fish and Fisheries, biologists Calum Brown, Keven Laland and Jens Krause said fish were now seen as highly intelligent creatures. They said: "Gone (or at least obsolete) is the image of fish as drudging and dim-witted pea-brains, driven largely by 'instinct',' with what little behavioural flexibility they possess being severely hampered by an infamous 'three-second memory'. "Now, fish are regarded as steeped in social intelligence, pursuing Machiavellian strategies of manipulation, punishment and reconciliation, exhibiting stable cultural traditions, and co-operating to inspect predators and catch food." Recent research had shown that fish recognised individual "shoal mates", social prestige and even tracked relationships. Scientists had also observed them using tools, building complex nests and exhibiting long-term memories. The scientists added: "Although it may seem extraordinary to those comfortably used to pre-judging animal intelligence on the basis of brain volume, in some cognitive domains, fishes can even be favourably compared to non-human primates." They said fish were the most ancient of the major vertebrate groups, giving them "ample time" to evolve complex, adaptable and diverse behaviour patterns that rivalled those of other vertebrates. BBC, 2003

‘…human embroyos in their early stages develop but quickly abandon fish-like gill-pouches.’ Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

‘Loveless, and so lively!/ born before God was love,/ Or life knew loving./ Beautifully beforehand with it all.’ Fish, DH Lawrence

‘Fish have been used as models in cancer research for almost a century because of the strikingly similar histopathological features of fish and human tumors. Despite this agreement, however, very little is known about the correspondence of the molecular mechanisms that drive tumorigenesis in these two phylogenetically distant species. In this issue, Lam et al. evaluate the molecular conservation between human and zebrafish liver tumors using comparative functional genomics. They identify significant similarities between fish and man in the expression profiles of orthologous genes according to histopathologic tumor grade, thus strengthening the rationale for using zebrafish as a cancer model system.’ Nature, 2006


Bulging, flabby, axolotyl-coloured;

giant molluscs upturned - sunless -

ousted from clothes-shells; fudgy,

but feeling light, fexible – as graceful

as ballerinas. Elongated starfish limbs,

rolling in pliable black swimsuit skin -

or spiny, crackly, knobbly creatures -

thin and clackety; twiggy, skin-dipped

skeletons, clattering brittle to the side -

then splooshing into tender angles,

gentle joints and tendons stretching

heron legs; such smooth resistence -

or those preening, sleek, perfectly

proportioned - lithe, muscular, fit.

In multi-coloured nylon fig leaves,

seal-shiny; silver shivers glistening

on slim pink fins, flippers, stumpy

webs - still giving slip, push, slice,

but healed gills sealed, despite the longing,

homely memories - breath held, suspended

in the booming blue underwater Kingdom,

wet with silence, ancient sounds -

listening for the singing of whales,

supported in water’s hanging coat,

walking, bounding like sunk astronauts,

in ancient understanding of new gravity,

as vestigial clipped wings fumble - fail

in air; flapping arms like battery hens,

consumed with eagle-envy - creating

angels, planes; longingly loving blue.

But water still weighs us like fish,

cupped in her silver bowl; the sea

supports our glittering return home,

to dripping slither-skin, splashing

diluted mercury like liquid light -

for merely fun, beauty, happiness;

swimming pool children laughing -

gleeful as dolphins; still amphibious,

babies smile, open eyes under water.

Not just the womb, so warm, dreaming

ourselves from water – our diving rope

of skin and blood plugged to the belly,

but the fish we remember - living fossils,

breathing ship-in-bottles; tell-tale vessels

of those many missing mermaids/mermen.

Polar fish antifreeze III protein (BAA91818.1)

‘We found a human sialic acid synthase containing a domain homologous to polar fish antifreeze III protein (BAA91818.1)’ International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium

In the arms of water, total embrace

of moon-cooled night molecules -

I have understood your heart at last;

she is white fur-wrapped, unstained

as Polar Bear spinning snow slowly

into body, colour - adapting texture;

cultured, immune from the start of life,

genetic defence against cold - learning

frost from hard lessons - melting ice

in a beating red temple, human rose;

where we would seize, weaken, slow, chill -

polar fish antifreeze III protein (BAA91818.1)

turns the water that came from the sea,

that turned to blood, red as roses again -

perfecting still at the North Pole - in the heart

of fish among icebergs, environmental despair.

‘…these vertebrates and their successors, so crucial in the evolution of species, throve and multiplied to such an extent that the Devonian is sometimes called the Age of Fishes…A few species such as Dinichthys grew to as much as twenty feet…something akin to human emotion ran along these newly evolved spines when Dinichthys hurled himself among the helpless shoals.’ Jacquetta Hawkes,  A Land, Cresset Press, 1951

The Age of Fishes

Each beach is homage to the Age of Fishes -

on the golden-grain shore of the blue kingdom,

mermen, mermaids, adapted, remembering

what they surrendered for the feel of earth

underfoot; the slow flight through water,

aqueous support - desiring yet to plunge,

maybe this time, to inherit everything -

cool, glittering, moon-scaled, enormous;

ponderously ecstatic under far starlight

penetrating ink - what it was to swim

among the original atoms, fin-wings wide,

wet breath coming - which was also light.

Do fish cry?

‘Do fishes cry, mummy? Do fish cry?’

Who would really know, sweetheart,

if they did - who would even know 

if a fish cried. They’re like strangers

in the street, most people we meet -

we cannot see their tears in the clear,

sterile water of public life, cannot hear

them crying in the streams of everyday -

but they have red blood, when I expected

mercury, some silver stuff - just like us.’

‘One of the most controversial hypotheses about vertebrate evolution is the proposal that two WGD (whole-genome duplication) events occurred early in the vertebrate lineage, around the time of jawed fishes some 500 Myr ago. Some authors have seen support for this theory in the fact that many human genes occur in sets of four homologues - most notably the four extensive HOX gene clusters on chromosomes 2, 7, 12 and 17, whose duplication dates to around the correct time. However, other authors have disputed this interpretation, suggesting that these cases may reflect unrelated duplications of specific regions rather than successive WGD…Although the analyses are sensitive to the imperfect quality of the gene predictions, our results so far are insufficient to settle whether two rounds of WGD occurred around 500 Myr ago.’ International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium

‘No other creature displays so exquisite an adaptation to the tidal rhythm as the grunion - a small, shimmering fish about as long as a man’s hand. Through no-one can say what processes of adaptation, extending over no-one knows how many millennia, the grunion has come to know not only the daily rhythm of the tides, but the monthly cycle by which certain tides sweep higher on the beaches than others. It has so adapted its spawning habits to the tidal cycle that the very existence of the race depends of the precision of this adjustment…the magic change from fertilized egg to larval fishlet is compete…still buried in the sand waiting for release. With the tides of the new moon it comes.’ Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us, Oxford University Press , 1951

Let us call the grunion something other

Let us call the grunion something other;

Silver-fish, Moon-fish, Lover-fish - or

Fish-wizard, Tide-Queen, Moonbeam -

anything poetic, recognising her organic

magic, symbiosis with Moon and tide,

cultured from the very start of things;

Nature’s gigantic rhythm exemplified,

symbolised in living silver and shine -

as watches represent some understanding

of time; but her mechanisms are chemical,

all of her understands unquestioningly

why she is demanded by moon and tide,

her reproduction reliant - as women have tides -

human lunatics are truly affected by Full Moons.

‘Today's exploitative fishing practices exceed nature's ability to replenish the ocean's fish stocks. According to the United Nations, 71-78% of the world's fisheries are 'fully exploited', 'over exploited' or significantly depleted'. Some species have already been fished to commercial extinction. More are on the verge of extinction. Fishing does not only threaten the fish species we target for food. Other species - such as marine mammals and seabirds - are caught incidentally in fishing gear and killed. Moreover, the fishing practices are destructive. Bottom trawling, for example, is a destructive way of 'strip mining' the ocean surface, harvesting the species that live there. It can destroy entire habitats found on the ocean floor…Most fishing gear is not selective. This means that as well as the 'target' species of fish it catches, any number of 'non-target' species may also be hauled in. This 'incidental' catch of other species is referred to as 'bycatch'. Globally, it is estimated that almost a quarter of what is caught is merely killed and discarded.’ Greenpeace, 2006

Rainforest, ocean; Earth’s treasures

were not diamonds, gold, oil, coal -

but her creatures and energy - enough

to fuel and cure the planet of most ills;

even as our fellow species yield

Evolution’s generosity, her help,

we destroy the means of our own

salvation from sickness, depletion.

Come to the huge blue world beneath -

once it was a whole kingdom preserved;

recently her systems ruled consummate

blue - her coral gardens, royal domains -

water-light was pure, synthesis of solar

energy - swimming molecules in flesh,

shell; now so much salt in her wounds -

where we have learned our fishbrothers

remained, sisters of fin, tail, sickness;

shared mechanisms holy as ours, rich,

gifted to each by Evolution - rehearsed,

revised. Will we stand for this slaughter

on two legs that were once these fins;

written there, read, of similarity, kin –

imagine that trawling in a city;

children, everyone, everything

destroyed for unnatural profit,

unacceptable lack of principle;

fish in the sea seemed endless -

now poisoned, depleted, sinned

against; pollution and destruction

of the sea is fundamental wrong -

not just against a beautiful system

never ours to so condemn, but an

insane degradation of core Earth element,

free means of our own bodily redemption;

deep down there was unlikely light

to generate sparks in dark sickness -

new currents, tides, swell, connection;

wisdom is squandered with each fish.

‘Shrimp fisheries have the world's highest bycatch rate.  About 5kg of marine life is killed for each kilo of shrimp harvested. An estimated 11 million tons of finfish is discarded each year in shrimp trawl fisheries and the nets used to dredge the sea floor can be highly damaging to a number of marine habitats. Shrimp farms, as an alternative, cause less bycatch but their creation has led to massive mangrove destruction in East Asia.’ BBC, 2006

It has been estimated that almost a quarter of all creatures caught in fisheries worldwide are thrown back either dead or dying. At the same time bottom trawling is destroying ocean seabeds and wiping out entire ecosystems while pair trawling is killing dolphins in their thousands.’ Greenpeace, 2006

Dolphins, marine turtles, seals, seabirds, sharks, juvenile fish, fish with little commercial value, corals…billions of unwanted animals are caught every year by fishing boats then discarded dead or dying back into the ocean.’ WWF, 2006

‘Bycatch is not limited to unwanted fish species.  All types of marine life including whales, dolphins, porpoises, fur seals, albatrosses and turtles are killed as bycatch. For example, a staggering 100 million sharks are killed each year. Tuna fisheries, which in the past had high dolphin bycatch levels, are still responsible for the deaths of 1 million sharks.’ Greenpeace, 2006

Frustrating species, which knows beauty, light,

nature of common goodness, but chooses this –

can this new science be a spotlight, beneficial

shock, beam in dark waters of deep ignorance -

in the smallest silver fish is shining knowledge;

starlight scale, feather skeleton, cold red blood,

illuminating Evolution, incandescing theories,

long stories of tail and feet, arms, fins - water

and earth explored; cure and food, supple clue,

living diagram, now fully recognisable as holy.


Discard of miracles, tons of miracles;

the sparkle of genes is blinding in air -

coral, seabirds, sharks, turtles, dolphins,

slaughtered invisibly at sea, or returned

dead and dying to their home, for money,

for us - we who did not ask for this - no,

do not blame us – we did not know. But

do now; galaxies of stars into black holes,

baskets of miracles clustered in cold flesh;

treatments for our ailments all squandered.

Fish will have the last laugh; in them

were cures, clues - so many miracles.





Note from the author
exploring the project

    Gene Zoo
        Puffer Fish
        Also, Zebrafish
        Tyrannosaurus Rex
    Gene Garden
    Earth Poems

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