Note from the author
exploring the project

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

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Nature of the Genome (1)

‘In this paper, we start by presenting background information on the project and describing the generation, assembly and evaluation of the draft genome sequence. We then focus on an initial analysis of the sequence itself: the broad chromosomal landscape; the repeat elements and the rich palaeontological record of evolutionary and biological processes that they provide; the human genes and proteins and their differences and similarities with those of other organisms; and the history of genomic segments. (Comparisons are drawn throughout with the genomes of the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster and the mustard weed Arabidopsis thaliana; we refer to these for convenience simply as yeast, worm, fly and mustard weed.)…’ "International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium" International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, Nature, 2001

‘The general arrangement of the genome provides a startling jolt. In some ways it may resemble your  garage/bedroom/refrigerator/life: highly individualistic, but unkempt; little evidence of organization; much accumulated clutter (referred to by the uninitiated as 'junk'); virtually nothing ever discarded; and the few patently valuable items indiscriminately, apparently carelessly, scattered throughout. Those valuable items are the genes themselves. Remarkably, a couple of hundred genes found in humans are more similar to bacterial genes than to anything seen in yeast, worm, fly or plants. And they appear to have been transferred from a range of bacterial species. The same genes are found in other vertebrate species, indicating that they were introduced into the genome of a common ancestor and were retained during evolution of the vertebrate lineage.’ Richard Gallagher and Carina Dennis, Nature magazine

‘Our genome is a snapshot of our history, a record of acquisition of DNA sequences, 'invasion' by repeated DNA sequences and, in many cases, the 'deaths' of these invaders.’ YourGenome.org

‘Similarly, the usage of genes by an organism can change with time or circumstances. For instance, when an organism is under stress, it activates extra genes. A completed genome sequence is like a ‘parts list’ for an organism, a catalogue itemising all the molecules an organism can make. Armed with a genome sequence, researchers can ask which proteins or genes an organism uses when it is performing a particular function.’ Demystifying Genomics, Medical Research Council, UK

‘But genes make up only tiny fractions of the entire genome. Incredibly, they only make up 3% of the total DNA in our chromosomes. In between each gene there are long stretches of DNA which do not appear to code for anything. Scientists refer to this as DNA because they have not discovered what secret message it is hiding – if any. When it was decided to sequence the entire Human Genome, the Junk was included in the project in the belief that it might have as yet undiscovered significance. BBC Science Online

‘…human genes are so few and far between. There are, on average, around 12 genes per million bases of human DNA, compared with 117 in fruit flies, 197 in roundworms and 221 in Arabidopsis. Finding genuine genes amid the morass of meaningless DNA has proven a sore trial to current computer software. Anther reason human genes are hard to detect is that, compared with other creatures' genes, they are highly fragmented. In organisms more complicated than bacteria, tend to be divided into sections of coding sequence, 'exons', interrupted by non-coding spacers called 'introns' - just as TV programmes are interrupted by commercial breaks. Generally, human genes have many small exons and longer-than-average introns - some are more than 10,000 bases long. The largest human gene is 2.4 million bases long. It encodes the muscle protein 'dystrophin' (and malfunctions in muscular dystrophy). But most of it is non-coding DNA. The record-holder for coding sequence is the gene for 'titin', another muscle protein. The gene is 80,780 bases long, divided into 178 exons, the largest of which contains 17,106 bases.’ Henry Gee, Nature

Were Jordan, Jodie March and Abi Titmuss born without the ‘titin’ gene? Gillian K Ferguson, The Human Genome: Poems on the Book of Life

Nature of the Genome (1)

Art of Evolution -

the Human Genome

lives at the heart of Science and Aesthetics both;

artistic in groping towards best expression – trial,

growth, adaptation - worship of the principle of creation;

scientific in chemical processes, sequencing, description,

but belongs to neither alone, for it is one,

lying somewhere among their synthesis –

one, speaking loosely – amalgamation - yet possessed

fully of identity, won from primaeval soup by struggle

to be, stay, see, think. Witness the hands of the artist, how smeared,

marked by his labours; his sketches, errors, re-workings, triumphs -

molecules describing the paper, chalk, pen, ink, paint, are not enough;

the thing itself escapes - description of the Genome is not the Genome,

any more than this list is a person - just the glorious means, wonderfully

awry, explosively precise in the midst of imprecision; adaptive, selective,

fabulous art – life’s art accomplished over four billion years -

Michelangelo might be one sublime working molecule to her;

she sees no reason to forget her kin, ancestors - she is not proud

as her creatures have become - superior, apart, holier-than-thou;

small worm upon the earth we were, before animals, plants;

our wings are near - fins, close – (we still grow early gills -

womb water passing through, breathing oxygen and blood

as we did at first; light still carried to us there, absorbable).

If we could see the Genome - without flesh, but not written,

not computerised, coded, but in pictures, we could see better

how she is not stable, unchanging, but ever-shifting, evolving;

right here, right now, in your moist reading eyeball, synapses,

hand turning the page of today - the Genome is altered,

learning, in peril, healing, going wrong; she has fought

to keep us all here. We would see in a system not yet invented,

where art and poetry, imagination, must try – (didn’t Erasmus

Darwin imagine, see DNA, pictorial silver filaments, two hundred

years before science?); not a photo of a man, but complex creature

trailing prints, sketches - drawn over and over, blurred, focusing -

at fossil bone-blades the wing; at arms the fin. We would be green,

our faces and eyes containing the open look of flowers -

we would be perfumed, bees about us - our hands, paws,

hair like lions; at our heart, a smouldering coal of amoeba,

RNA molecule like a seed we could only describe as holy,

like the egg that blew the Universe to dust and gases, water, light,

life; the whole story would be there, how imprinted over and over,

if we could see or comprehend. Science and Art must work together

to understand the nature of the Human Genome, which is not strings

of letters, codes, or poetry; physical music, masterful art, but synthesis,

chemical expression, artful scheme, incomprehensible without wonder

in the coded eye, the Genome’s ability to reflect creatively upon itself;

where we say messy, hording, sprawling, junk, because we understand

no other words for what we see; or why, or at best, maybe.

And personally, I love her treasures of Evolution - sit now

knowing my almost-tail is curled around the seat, cosy at my bum;

probably matches my hair, proud, vainly lion-luxuriant - my wings

throb on sunny days at burning blades - hot as chestnut buds,

stag antler-nubs, eagle-gold at sunset watching sea, unfurling

at moments of grace, when I hold my child in evening’s early blue;

their feather recipes understood by the Genome’s old imagination.

I am proud these holy feet walked in mud, jungle, among leaves;

my fingers once understood sky, how it feels to flower in spring -

that mechanism leaping still in the seasonal heart - for the Genome

feels no need to jettison her memories. She is memorial to the dead,

most fitting, venerating by preservation - now telling us alone

of all her species of our own connection; her chemical proofs

are incontrovertible, absolute. Our own nature tells us of our nature;

her story is beautiful, her truth beautiful - genius and labourer both.

‘With the complete sequence of the human genome nearly in hand, the next challenge is to extract the extraordinary trove of information encoded within its roughly 3 billion nucleotides. This information includes the blueprints for all RNAs and proteins, the regulatory elements that ensure proper expression of all genes, the structural elements that govern chromosome function, and the records of our evolutionary history. Some of these features can be recognized easily in the human sequence, but many are subtle and difficult to discern.’ Nature, 2003

‘Cytogenetic analysis of the sequenced clones confirms suggestions that large GC-poor regions are strongly correlated with 'dark G-bands' in karyotypes... Recombination rates tend to be much higher in distal regions (around 20 megabases (Mb)) of chromosomes and on shorter chromosome arms in general, in a pattern that promotes the occurrence of at least one crossover per chromosome arm in each meiosis... More than 1.4 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the human genome have been identified.’ "International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium" International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, Nature, 2001

‘The genome [is] a sort of autobiography…a record,  written in ‘genetish’, of all the vicissitudes and inventions that have characterised the history of our species and its ancestors since the very dawn of life. There are genes that have not changed much since the very first single-celled creatures populated the primaeval ooze…genes that developed when our ancestors were wormlike… when our ancestors were fish. There are genes that exist in their present form only because of recent epidemics of disease….genes that can be used to write the history of human migrations in the last few thousand years. From four billion years ago to just a few hundred years ago, the genome has been a sort of autobiography for our species, recording the important events as they occurred.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000

I am the organic repository;

my stores are coded, though

I don’t know how it’s done – dazzling,

clever chemistry takes care of all that.

My personal, familiar face forms the focus - my

media relations, public aspect, sometimes mask,

of so much going on under these vital features,

markers of me in the world, seeling pink shell -

hatching new skin under sun - using air, cycles

of blood, astounding brain, symphonic synapses; 

neurons, transmitters, nerves and impulse,

electrical activity. Storms in me constantly

beneath my still waters, illusion of smooth separateness,

where only age whispers this advancing genomic story

with physical marks, new lines - smudging. Still no clue

in this great description of how we are, in the head, heart;

not impulse, slavery, but love, identifying another combustion

of chemicals - lassoed identity among a sea of genes - another

beautiful veil, believing in the same invisible heart -

making meaningful our lovely ragbag, ribbons, bows;

our best-as-we-can-be, tatty flag - hung for a tiny time

in a world fantastic as ourselves, to be scarcely credible,

something we can believe in, believe exists; like our eye

was once just water under sun - my child a cell wanting

in that same water to stay - be something, create;

how First Impulse to Create still powers, informs

the nature of the Genome, will always - in endless energy

befitting spirit and expression of creativity and chemistry.

‘Curiously, much of our repeat content represents ancient remnants of long-'dead' transposons, unlike fly and mouse genomes, which harbour younger, more active, elements. Freed from many of the evolutionary constraints on functional sequences, repeat elements have accumulated mutations and diverged from each other over time. Analysis of these gradual changes thus provides a fascinating window on the evolution of our species. Most transposable elements entered our genome before the appearance of placental mammals. Some types flourished, such as those known as LINE1 and Alu elements (which represent more than 60 per cent of all interspersed repeat sequences in our  genome). Others appear to have found the environment unsavoury: for example, only faint traces of LTR retrotransposons are detectable in the human genome - though they are alive and kicking in the mouse genome.’ Wellcome Trust

‘DNA transposons, another type of repeat, have marked our genome with two bursts of activity -  before and after the appearance of placental mammals. As DNA transposons can mediate chromosomal rearrangements, it is tempting to speculate that they had an important part in speciation. Why does the genome carry such a heavy load of parasitic DNA? Are we unusually sloppy at cleaning out the ancient debris of  past invaders? Could we be considered simply to be vehicles for proliferation of these selfish elements? Or do we retain them because they serve some useful purpose? It is likely that there is some truth in each of these propositions. There is evidence that transposons shaped the evolution of the genome and mediated the creation of new genes. Analysis of the draft genome has identified 47 transposon-derived genes, including the genes encoding telomerase - an RNA-containing enzyme that synthesizes telomeres, the DNA that caps the ends of chromosomes - and RAG1 and RAG2 - the enzymes that assemble the immunoglobulin and T-cell receptor genes from smaller gene segments, producing an extraordinary diversity of immune system molecules.  Fragments of transposons are found in the regulatory sequences that control the expression of several hundred other genes. So  it is not inconceivable that, at least in part, transposons are retained because they confer advantage.’ Richard Gallagher and Carina Dennis, Wellcome Trust                  

How lovely to be a mammal - so

cuddly-wuddly, soft and muddly,

compared to being a snake or scorpion,

brittle, dark, crunchy; hard and slithery -

how sweet and smudgy, squishy, just nice;

considerate, civilised, tasteful - only polite,

keeping your skeleton hidden away,

kept lovely and white, locked inside

where it can’t be scary;

shouting of death, earth,

decay, decomposition, worms and stuff –

(how everyone fixed-grins far too much

considering they’re dead,

the bottox-boned jokers).

How lucky not to go crrrruunchhh

if someone happens to step on you -

or shrieks; says urgh, or eek, screeeeches

just ‘cos you walk in sight, on wee hairy

legs; black body polished until it gleams -

there’s economy in exoskeleton - scales,

being a fish; just missing out on some transposon

action - new activities with telomeres, immunity -

but being furry, fluffy, whiskery, muffly, tufty

brings advantage on its own; interacting cutely

with the human genes that go - Aaaaaah, Ooooooo,

innee sweeeet, and gets you a better chance of being

saved from extinction than having eight eyes, legs;

and means your children are often safer than theirs.

How the sequence got the way it is - Some genes prosper because they make bodies better adapted for the outside world. But the DNA that takes this laborious and haphazard route accounts for only a small percentage of the genome. Our chromosomes are stuffed with hitchhikers, 'mobile elements' that jump around the genome, inserting new copies of themselves as they go. They make up nearly half of the human genome. These DNA parasites destroy and create. They cause diseases including haemophilia and muscular dystrophy - by disrupting important functional genes. But the genome sequence suggests that they may also have benefits. And researchers can use the patterns of mobile elements in the genome to hunt for genes and reconstruct the history of our species. Good, bad and indifferent, mobile elements have had a huge influence on the structure of the human genome. Okada, an evolutionary geneticist at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, describes their activity as "the most important event in the building of our contemporary genomes". You can look at mobile elements as organisms in an ecosystem," says John McDonald of the University of Georgia, Athens. There are many different 'species' of mobile elements and they have evolved many different ways to multiply and go forth. And, just as in a real ecosystem, some have thrived in the past only to become extinct, losing the ability to replicate and persisting as genetic fossils. Mobile elements work like retroviruses such as HIV... sequence encodes one enzyme ('reverse transcriptase') for turning RNA into DNA, and another (an endonuclease) for cutting DNA strands. The cell's machinery turns these elements into RNA, and thence into proteins. The endonuclease then cuts a hole in another part of the genome, and the reverse transcriptase slots the mobile element into its new home. DNA parasites do even less work: they parasitize the other parasites. Rather than making proteins of their own, their sequences attract the enzymes made by self-sufficient mobile elements, which do the inserting for them.’ John Whitfield, Nature

Such fabulous embroidery

All life, such fabulous continuous embroidery

upon the world – in air canvas, on paper earth -

red stain of the wine rose; dark ferrous

blood stitched inside the woven flesh -

until torn, genetic messages loosed

and drained that should be unseen –

dun and purple threads that work the ringing heather,

spun gold in the lazy zagging of the tired honeybee -

metallic threads writing water’s mercury body,

heaven-substance clothing fish, bird, butterfly;

threads spun blue and green from water-genes -

natural magic, composited in dreams; in colour

poems, compounds - zinging silver filaments

where shimmer spidered jewels, scintillating,

radiating - organics stars linking, talking,

messaging; reciting, representing stories,

battle flags and graveyards - blurred rags

of sopped disease; paths of life and death.

Life, old battlehorse still shining like a first stallion -

cannabilising death especially, fruitfully composting;

trailing our ermine trim, shifting skeletons,

feather and bones interwoven, white wool,

building our textile over four billennnia,

to hand us thus into the world, display -

the work of us, noisy with building and decay,

celestial sound of Evolution in the needlework

of eye and hand, seeing stars in living flesh -

hand bones in bats and eagles, starfish belly;

no pattern or blueprint but creativity,

no threads but chemicals - no colour

but what light can do with optical creatures.

From dreams, life sewing itself into reality -

Genome needlewoman working herself,

trailing work from her own body codes;

our garment on invisible canvas, pins, interwoven -

sun-thread, earth-stitch, experimental fabric poem.

The human genome is richer in transposable elements and other repetitive DNA sequences than any other genome known, although the density of repeats varies widely. A 525,000-base region of the X chromosome consisting of 89% of repeated sequences is the most cluttered. At the other extreme are the 'HOX clusters' which regulate development. These contain less than 2% of repeated elements.’ Henry Gee, Nature

‘Genomes are not static. Genes mutate and, during reproductive processes, genes from parent organisms are shuffled and dealt in new combinations to offspring.’ Medical Research Council, UK

In places, the genome looks like a sea of reverse-transcribed DNA with a small admixture of genes.” David Baltimore, Co-discoverer of Reverse Transcriptase, California Institute of Technology, US

‘…the genome is a book that wrote itself, continually adding, deleting and amending over four billion years. Documents that write themselves have unusual properties. In particular, they are prone to parasitism…Genes are stretches of DNA that comprise the recipes for proteins. But ninety-seven per cent of our genome does not consist of true genes at all. It consists of a menagerie of strange entites called pseudogenes, retrospseudogenes, satellites, minisatellites, microsatellites, transposons and retrotransposons: all collectively known as ‘junk DNA’… there are several thousand nearly complete viral genomes integrated into the human genome, most of them now inert or missing a crucial gene. These ‘human endogenous retroviruses’ or Hervs, accout for 1.3% of the entire genome. That may not sound like much, but ‘proper’ genes only account for 3%. If you think being decended from apes is bad for your self esteem, then get used to the idea that you are also descended from viruses.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000

‘We know that the human genome is a large and disordered jumble of ancient viruses punctuated by a modest collection of genes, some from bacteria, and that it has come to do much more than it could possibly have been designed to do. But it is too much to expect that the study of the human genome should further our understanding of what it is that gives humans their complexity of structure, behaviour, conscious action, memory - humanity…as Baltimore notes, the questions that the draft genome now open to investigation include some of the simplest and deepest, such as: "Daddy, where did I come from?”’ Nature News Service/ Macmillan Magazines Ltd

Genetic squirrels

Genetic squirrels, horders; reluctant to part

even with a single germ - viral hitchhiker -

foragers, survivors, superstitiously keeping

everything, just in case it comes in useful -

the way my war-granny’s drawer kept thread

wound round cut cardboard; ribbons, screws,

washers, keys, coupons, six kinds of string;

defunct fuses, tuning fork, darning needles -

and her button box had gold treasures - shell,

metal; keys for long broken time-less clocks;

such complexity already being useful, necessary

in dark recessed mechanisms not yet understood;

scientists digging mostly nuggets – the gold genes

among guddly cluttered earth, genetic rubbish tips;

perhaps discarding treasure of a different kind -

like old Roman, Victorian heaps yield ravishing

objects, casually discarded - where one scrap,

broken pot, might illuminate the whole world.

‘How the sequence got the way it is…LINE1's DNA-cutting enzyme homes in on sequences containing the bases A and T.  The Alu element, however, is more common in 'GC-rich' regions. This has the genome's authors "baffled" particularly as Alu presumably uses LINE1's enzymes to insert itself. It implies that Alu has some positive effect that has been favoured by evolution…(but no-one) is sure what this benefit might be. "Without knowing what mobile elements do, it is difficult to understand their evolution," says Carl Schmid, a geneticist at the University of California…Schmid's group has discovered that the activity of Alu genes increases when cells are attacked - by heat, poisoning or viral infection, for example. This suggests that the benefits of Alu may come from its ability to modify the activity of other genes. "We think Alu elements are a group of cell-stress genes," he says. Haig Kazazian, of the University of Pennsylvania, suspects that one of the next priorities will be to unravel the mechanisms by which retrovirus-like elements get around. He also believes that mobile elements may find applications in molecular biology labs, as a way of inserting new genes into organisms or causing mutations in model systems such as mice. Some researchers believe that the actions of selfish mobile elements and the of their hosts have been a driving force in the evolution of genomic structure, cellular function and biological complexity. The draft human genome - and the ever-increasing number of genomes with which to compare it - may help us to address these profound questions…”We're seeing trends that we had no clue existed before, and these trends need to be explained," he says. "I wouldn't have been able to tell you that before we had the genome sequence”.’ John Whitfield, Nature News, Macmillan Magazines Ltd, 2001 (txt errs)

‘All this… amounts to a major and unexpected discovery – the genome is littered, one might almost say clogged, with the equivalent of computer viruses, selfish, parasitic stretches of letters which exist for the pure and simple reason that they are good at getting theselves duplicated…Approximately thirty-five per cent of  human DNA consists of various forms of selfish DNA, which means that replicating our genes takes thirty-five per cent more energy than it need. Our genomes badly need worming.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000

‘An international team of 152 scientists has published a detailed map of more than 21,000 human genes. The work is seen as a major advance in the efforts to make sense of the genome, the DNA code that guides the building and maintenance of our bodies. Sequencing of the human genome was officially finished in 2003, but scientists still need to interpret this vast resource of raw information. The H-Invitational Consortium's work should aid the investigation of disease. "The gene is a very nebulous concept," [said] co-investigator Anthony J Brookes, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. "A string of sequence can be used in many different ways to make different RNAs and different proteins. Those can be expressed in different cells in different places at different times. Should you call it all one gene? That is now a problem." The analysis also shows that about 4% of the human genome sequence is missing or misassembled, say the researchers. Professor Brookes added that the research supported the theory that much of our DNA has no function. "The genome wasn't designed by a computer programmer from top to bottom. It keeps evolving all the time. There are bits of the genome and RNA molecules that are probably not doing much. Maybe they did once, but they don't now. Or maybe they're evolving a function." Elspeth Bruford of the Hugo Gene Nomenclature Committee, at University College London, UK [said]: "There are several databases out there that already do this sort of thing. But many work by electronically predicting the genes. "The main thing that was different about this process was that you had human curation of every single entry. "Then they tried to cluster [the cDNAs] to find out which were splice variants, and proceeded to identify similarity to known genes and look for encoded domains in proteins to predict their possible functions." The H-Invitational Database contains different forms of proteins encoded by the genes, called splicing isoforms, predictions of the proteins that are manufactured and sites where the genes are active in the body.’ BBC News Online, 2004

As Earth shines

As Earth shines -

productive, alive

in such huge black space,

among wounded planets -

poisonous, dead - chaotic;

random sequences of stars,

creative genes scatter

the sparkling Genome.

‘The genomic landscape shows marked variation in the distribution of a number of features, including genes, transposable elements, GC content, CpG islands and recombination rate. This gives us important clues about function. For example, the developmentally important HOX gene clusters are the most repeat-poor regions of the human genome, probably reflecting the very complex coordinate regulation of the genes in the clusters… There appear to be about 30,00040,000 protein-coding genes in the human genome - only about twice as many as in worm or fly…Analysis of the organization of Alu elements explains the longstanding mystery of their surprising genomic distribution, and suggests that there may be strong selection in favour of preferential retention of Alu elements in GC-rich regions and that these 'selfish' elements may benefit their human hosts.’  "International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium" International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, Nature, 2001

‘Grand Challenge I-1 Comprehensively identify the structural and functional components encoded in the human genome Although DNA is relatively simple and well understood chemically, the human genome's structure is extraordinarily complex and its function is poorly understood. Only 1–2 percent of its bases encode proteins7, and the full complement of protein-coding sequences still remains to be established. A roughly equivalent amount of the non-coding portion of the genome is under active selection11, suggesting that it is also functionally important, yet vanishingly little is known about it. It probably contains the bulk of the regulatory information controlling the expression of the approximately 30,000 protein-coding genes, and myriad other functional elements, such as non-protein-coding genes and the sequence determinants of chromosome dynamics. Even less is known about the function of the roughly half of the genome that consists of highly repetitive sequences or of the remaining non-coding, non-repetitive DNA.’ A Vision for the Future of Genomics Research, US National Human Genome Research Institute, Nature, 2003

‘In the cell habitat, an invading organism can progressively lose pieces of itself, slowly blending into the general background, its former existence betrayed only by some relic. Indeed, one is reminded of Alice in Wonderland’s encounter with the Cheshire cat…There are a number of objects in a cell like the grin of the Cheshire cat. For those who try to trace their origin, the grin is challenging and truly enigmatic.’ Sir David Smith, The Cell as a Habitat, 1979

‘The genome is a museum of the viral infections suffered by humanity and its ancestors. Transposable and repeated sequences started life as the genomes of independent entities that became integrated into the genome.’ Henry Gee, Nature, 2001

Nature of the Genome (2)

Under the deceptive skin shield -

singular, smooth, pink simplicity,

sequinned with the eyes’ pilot white light,

I am outright war - but peaceful heaven -

battleground and Shangri-La -

Death’s minsicule footsoldiers

subdued by an ancient, warrior life

into humble, fruitful, ghostly decay.

Spirits of old death

inhabiting the living -

exorcised, converted, perverted,

into tools, operations, processes,

as vultures spread wings

above a ruined beast -

some rebellious, patient, insane;

manic, rapacious, rabbit-sexed.

We are works-in-progress, wet,

Experimental - epic, sprawling,

opportunistic, lucky, nurturing;

four billion years in the writing -

in the company of bacteria

we turned into our own -

we have learned of love,

tragedy, sonnet, doggerel;

from the belly of the worm,

drawn art and mathematics -

assimilating disease, threats, viruses,

clasping genetic vipers to our breast,

we have written such music

as brings stars to silver tears;

words to make stone mountains tremble

like the rooted flower tortured by wind -

from our junkyard endless treasure comes -

salvage, salvation, recycling for our species.

All our mistakes are here -

efforts, struggles, triumphs,

vicissitudes, trials preserved.

We have become as glass -

transparent pages scribbling

endless script on windows -

poem, incantation,

curse and prayer -

treaty, white flag,

declaration, truce.

We are true history; accurate,

because nothing is erased -

from humblest muscle gene

undulating long worm belly,

to bewitching weasel dance -

Arabian dance, Mr Universe;

so much composting past

rooting a fecund present -

so many possible futures

flowering in our world -

all people everywhere -

in everything still alive.

From light’s bright saliva

From water and earth,

light’s bright saliva -

we have made our eye -

slowly modified the rose

into beating heart;

pterodactyl wings

into memories of angels -

a child’s white embrace.

Genes for Untidiness

I look around my chaotic untidy room

to confirm the nature of the Genome

comes as no surprise -

my desk and drawers

hold themselves out as perfect illustrations.

If I’m essentially such a shambles inside -

how can I be expected to be tidy?

In fact, I’d say that anything else

(as I’ve always suspected, said),

is obviously entirely unnatural.

‘Human beings have far fewer genes than originally thought, a consortium of scientists has claimed in Nature. The researchers compared the draft human genome with the "gold standard" version, published last year, to work out how they are different. They found the most up-to-date human genome contains only 20,000 to 25,000 genes - which is about 10,000 less than indicated in the draft. This suggests that gene regulation is far more important than gene number. "It means that each gene can be used in a variety of different ways depending on how it is regulated," said Dr Tim Hubbard, of the Human Genetics group at the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK. "The big thing is regulation." Genes are the DNA starting templates that code for proteins, which then build and maintain our bodies… They are gradually discovering that the way genes are controlled - how, when and where they are activated - is a magnificently important and intricate process. It is as if each gene were a Swiss army knife - they can do several jobs, depending on how they are handled.At the moment the puppet masters, the bits of DNA that control the genes, are something of an enigma. "There may be a whole lot of stuff in the genome that we just don't know how to extract yet," said Dr Hubbard. "There is a big international collaboration trying to find out what there is apart from protein coding genes. "The genome contains tiny regulatory sequences, and these little 'actors' are important in the control system - but they are extremely hard to spot”.’ BBC, 2004