Gene Zoo

‘One almost wonders what, other than genes that make humans embark on sequencing genomes, does set us apart from flies and worms.’ European Journal of Human Genetics, 2005

‘And now that we have muddled through,/ Lest we foget from whence we come,/ One ancestor is in our zoo,/ And one in our aquarium.’ The Angler on His Ancestry, Thomas Thornely, 1855-1949

‘What can be more curious than that the hand of a man, formed for grasping, that of a mole for digging, the leg of the horse, the paddle of the porpoise, and the wing of the bat, should all be constructed on the same pattern, and should include similar bones in the same relative positions?’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘Genomics may even change the way we think about ourselves and other living beings on this planet. It may give us a much clearer picture of human kinships and our relatedness to other species.’ Demystifying Genomics, Medical Research Council, UK

There are a lot of people right now trying to understand why, despite everything being so similar, we look so dissimilar.” Dr Hans Cheng, US Department of Agriculture's Avian Disease and Oncology Laboratory, Michigan, US

‘It wil convince us of our ignorance on the mutual relations of all organic beings; a conviction as necessary, as it seems to be difficult to acquire.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘How I hate the man who talks about the ‘brute creation’, with an ugly emphasis on brute…As for me, I am product of my close kinship with other animals… I like to think I was once a magnificent hairy fellow living in the trees and that my frame has come down though geological time via seajelly and worms and Amphioxus, Fish, Dinosaurs, and Apes.’’ W.N.P. Barbellion, Naturalist, 22 June, 1910, Journal of a Disappointed Man, Chatto & Windus, 1919

‘At the level of totemism primitive man had no repugnance to tracing his descent from an animal ancestor…We all know that little more than half a century ago the researches of Chalres Darwin and his collaborators and forefunners put an end to this presumption on the part of man. Man is not a being different to animals or superior to them; he himself is of animal descent, being more closely related to some species and more distantly to others. The acquisitions he has subsequently made have not succeded in effacimg the evidences, both in his physical structure and in his mental dispositions, of his parity with them.’ Sigmund Freud, Psyco-analyst, A Difficulty in Psycho-Analysis, trans, The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1955

‘Human beings are, of course, species chauvinists. We tend to think that we represent normality, and judge all other creatures accordingly…But human beings are not alone on this planet. There are many other ways of being a living creature.’ Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

Organic whispering of the Animal Word

Organic whispering of the Word;

developing from Earth materials -

tiger, eagle, peacock, man, mouse,

bound indelibly by Evolution, but

written in myriad, divergent bodies -

sparkling genetic evidence unearthed

in unlikeliest blooms; from roots shared

at the start of water, light, broken stars -

supporting Nature’s fresh inventions,

flexible creations, laborious strings -

unwinding spiral of DNA, from heaven

to earth; the same molecules expressing

flowers, fur, skin, scale, feather;

wing, hand, paw, fin, leg, leaf -

everything we were, in sky and water,

earth, time - still are, under our skin -

in the dreaming beast - plant codes;

unprinted mark of our animal word.

‘In the course of the development of civilization man acquired a dominating position over his fellow-creatures in the animal kingdom. Not content with this supremacy, however, he began to place a gulf between his nature and theirs. He denied the possession of reason to them, and to himself he attributed an immortal soul, and made claims to a divine descent, which permitted him to break the bond of community between him and the animal kingdom. Curiously enough, this piece of arrogance is still foreign to children, just as it is also to primitive and primaeval man.’ Sigmund Freud, Psycho-analyst, A Difficulty in Psycho-Analysis, trans, The Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1955

In my Kingdom there are no kings or subjects

In my Kingdom there are no kings or subjects -

but all are princes, holy, High-born of Creation.

From Worm and Beetle, Millipede; Dragonflies,

once like eagles, working iridescence into flesh

four billion years, for this dazzling over water,

shimmering swoop of powered sky molecules;

to the Tiger’s supreme eloquence, burning fur

among tinder-gold brush, sizzling wet jungle -

Sun aureoling Lion’s head with animal halo,

languid understanding of dust - boring heat;

Panther shadow pouring over trees, Wolf chapter

looming himself from aeons of blurred twilight -

to bizarre experimental verse; tottering Giraffe

who can eat high leaves as raison d’etre weird,

from unattainable height, flutters hefty courtesan

lashes at any species; ginger stanza of Orang-utan

swinging, rust-fuzzy, baby-brotherly on elastic arms -

brilliant splinter-poem of Hummingbird supping sugar

faster than eye can separate iridescent dinosaur relic

from miniature emerald angel - a heaven-spark burst,

holy combustion of cobalt, ethereal mineral unknown,

warmed millennia with the alchemising blood of life. 

In my familial Kingdom there are no paupers;

even the least is incandescent with miracles -

partakes of my celestial Chemistry -

is starstone and first elements; new

celebrant of life risen from disturbance

of original water - light into molecules.

‘Man with all his noble qualities… still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.’ Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1871

‘Lucretius could not credit centaurs;/ Such bicycle he deemed asynchronous./ Man superannuates the horse;/ Horse pulses will not gear with ours.// Courage. Weren’t strips of heart culture seen/ of late mating two perodocities?/ Could not Professor Charles Darwin/ Graft annual upon perennial trees?’ William Empson, Invitation to Juno

‘It is instructive to compare the properties of human genes with those from worm and fly. For all three organisms, the typical length of a coding sequence is similar…We identified 1,308 groups of proteins, each containing at least one predicted orthologue in each species and many containing additional paralogues...Within these functional categories, the numbers of groups containing single orthologues in each of the four proteomes was: 19 for cellular processes, 66 for metabolism, 31 for DNA replication and modification, 106 for transcription/translation, 13 for intracellular signalling, 24 for protein folding and degradation, 38 for transport, 5 for multifunctional proteins and 3 for cytoskeletal/structural… these groups probably represent key functions that have not undergone duplication and elaboration in the various lineages.’  "International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium" International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, Nature, 2001

Gene Zoo: A Brief Welcome -

‘Welcome to the Gene Zoo…whisper please,

though maybe you expect, being newly post-

post-modernised, computer gleam; smell-free

shine of stripped science - but our Zoo is also

ancient and holy – so take off your shoes,

floors are clay, earth and straw; sea water

will be magically transformed, so prepare

mentally - you’ll be blown away to atoms,

molecules, DNA; travel, via the creatures

of the Zoo, their sparkling maps, through

water and light - to stars, darkness, iron -

from one dreaming cell to your fingertip.

See yourself as you truly are - eagle,

bat, seal; squirrel, mouse, worm, fish -

all that swims, creeps, crawls and flies

upon the face of Earth, indeed, is you…

For greater benefit of comprehension,

illustration, our Zoo lights are dimmed

to shades of summer twilight. Breathe

deeply, using our mitochondrial DNA,

of course, adapted from bacteria coming

to be in sea; worth pointing out for those

of you who probably thought we might

only be related to nice fluffy furry things,

koalas, bushbabies, kangaroos, pandas -

that kind of thing! Uh-huh?! Am I right?

Stand here - before the genomic mirror,

sequential structure of genomic glass -

look carefully for the gene-star twinkling

of our many conserved segments of DNA;

gasp in amazement if you will - please do,

when you discover your close relationship

with all that creep, walk, swim and fly

about the Earth – yes, madam, it is true.

Really, sir, that’s what we’ll hear - fish,

birds, rats, worms, they’re just like you!

Amazing, huh! And this is state-of-the-art,

21st Century science - but you don’t need

one GSCE - no notes required, so simple

to learn - we are all related, all lifeforms…

Yes, dear, that means you too; yup, even

if you are related to royalty on your late

mother’s side - you’re still human, see -

though we’re very evolved, nat-ur-all-y.

Yes, sir - it is much easier to see in some folk

than others - but look into the magic Genome,

see there still the worm; leaf, reptile, bird, fish,

flower, urchin, dog, bear, fossil-traces of DNA;

still sparkling - active, coding, working - productive

genes preserved, adapted, still evolving; fin and wing,

pterodactyl to Polly Parrot, Golden Eagle, arms of you

and me, night-twinkling bats; dreams of fallen angels…

So that’s all I need to say, except – enjoy! Welcome

once more to the Gene Zoo, our fascinating reliquary 

of species already sequenced - marvel at our similarity,

gasp at the fact a pufferfish is shown to be your brother,

fruit fly your sister - humble worm your mother…

And don’t forget to visit the Zoo Shop, of course;

our closest relatives can be found as souvenirs -

cuddly pufferfish, zebrafish, shrews; jelly worms,

and once you’ve explored your 99% identical

genetic make up with a mouse, how could you

leave without our squeaky rodent pencilcase! -

And now you know you’ve got genes for a tail,

please browse our wide selection of pin-on

models to suit every body-type, hair colour…

Or maybe a fruit fly teatowel, quite hilarious;

rat-rubber, oven-glove slug, they’re all on sale…

Oh, lastly, don’t worry about any snuffling,

snorting or wriggling sounds you may hear

while you’re with us; your multiple restless

brethren have no knowledge of their DNA -

do not know they are being observed, de-coded;

ignore any horrible popping noises experienced

when you are here, pinging sensations in delicate

preserved mechanisms of your ear - I’m afrrraid

that’s the regrettable sound of our fellow creatures

becoming extinct, dying off - whole species sound

quite like a waterfall, or a terrible low tidal moaning

at times heard by more sensitive guests, particularly

lost in awe, wonder - this may be mistaken for redundant

plumbing, but is actually God and nature-angels moaning

at our gates as another tiger dies, the holy flames of his fur

are carried up - transmuted into torch, brand, burning black

mark on scarred Creation - but hey, don’t let it spoil

your day - this is a visit about learning, celebration…

But if you see any decorated, ten foot-high Gorillas –

rainbow feathers, rattling fruits - or enormous tigers,

all burning shadow and flame - Polar Bears that rise,

as living snow, avalanche-size - or any other savage

gods from anywhere in the world, sometimes spotted;

a Giant Eagle too, drawn to this Zoo, also as essence,

spiritual presence of living animals – then stay back,

they might well be cross with us, the human race, so

we can’t be held responsible for any guilt, fear, awe,

or other emotion experienced while in their presence -

or any retribution occurring - or even the effect of any

diplomatic representations made on behalf of our fellow

creatures to we feeble representatives of Homo Sapiens,

and any action you might feel moved to take as a result. 

‘And God said, Let the earth bring forth THE LIVING GREATURE AFTER HIS KIND, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.’ Genesis 1, The Bible

‘..the mighty ages creep on…at last the first grand stage of the world for man stands completed, the Oyster is done. An oyster has hardly any more reasoning power than a scientist has; and so it is reasonably certain that this one jumped to the conculusion that the nineteeen-million years was a preparation for him; but that would be just like an oyster, which is the most conceited animal there is, except man. And anyway this one could not know at that early date, that he was only an incident in a scheme…Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I supppose it is. I dunno. If the Eiffel tower were now representing the world’s age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man’s share of that age; and anybody would perceive that that skin was what the tower was built for.’ Mark Twain, What is Man and Other Philosophical Writings, 1903, University of California Press, 1973

Organic kinship

Expression of life’s first principles,

written clearly in genomic mirrors –

Time’s scrawling, experimentation -

survival of those ones best equipped

for particular circumstances, then,

whenever; expression in flesh, fur,

feather, obscuring what is now laid

bare - genetic relativism, an organic

kinship - not just obvious apes,

but fish, bird, mouse and man;

incredible conservation, preservation,

creative adaptation of simplest tools -

astounding flexibility of chemicals

all the way, similarity to possibility.

‘[The Origin of Species 1859] was written in the anxiety of knowing that Alfred Russel Wallace, like Darwin himself earlier, had recently conceived of a process that Darwin would name ‘natural selection’. Instead of a species being created together at the beginning of time, or even at punctuated intervals through time, the present array of kinds throughout the world had come into being by a gradual process of genetic differentiation and selection under environmental pressures.’ Gillian Beer, Introduction, Charles Darwin Origin of Species (1859), Oxford University Press, 1998





Note from the author
exploring the project

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

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