Blue genes: poetry encoded in DNA

Paul Raven @ 25-03-2010

Via Lauren Beukes comes the news that Canadian poet Christian Bök has thought of a way to transcend Keats’ epitaph of being “one whose name was writ on water”; he seeks a poetic immortality that could outlive the human species itself, by the expedient of encoding some of his work into the DNA of a hardy strain of bacteria.

… it’s a tricky procedure, and Bök is doing what he can to make it even trickier. He wants to inject the DNA with a string of nucleotides that form a comprehensible poem, and he also wants the protein that the cell produces in response to form a second comprehensible poem.

You can’t fault the guy’s ambition. Who knows – his work might be rediscovered in some nigh-unimaginable future where interest in poetry hasn’t withered away to nearly nothing.

Then again, maybe it’ll stage a comeback – Damien Walter argues that the social media era is ideally suited to poetry’s narrative and expressive concision. I’d very much like to see it happen… but I’ll not hold my breath just yet.

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2 Responses to “Blue genes: poetry encoded in DNA”

  1. David says:

    This rings bells. Short story. Blood-writing. Koran.

    Written in Blood by Chris Lawson. It’s in the 17th (13th British?) Mammoth Best New SF, according to Google. The encoding method always seemed kinda arbitrary to me, I think this suffers from the same problem.

  2. Stephen J. says:

    I’ve heard some of Bok’s poetry; I’m not sure having it live forever is a goal worth spending this amount of time and effort on. Shakespeare managed 500 years of longevity so far with only paper and ink.

    Not to mention, Bok’s basic problem is that while the bacteria’s DNA may outlast humanity, the key needed to decode and translate it to read its poetry won’t.