The work of a molecular biology has often been described as always either grand and powerful, or dull and boring. Scientists, however, are people too; just as all of us fool around sometimes, so too do people in science. A group of British chemists in 1994, for example, went through intense research and made a complex molecule in the shape of Olympic rings just for the sake of it (the molecule was aptly named Olympiadane) (Paper here).
In the spirit of the Renaissance period, one should not limit the abilities of oneself to one and only one discipline. The chemistry between STEM and the Arts (termed STEAM—there is a Yale STEAM chapter, by the way!) has been booming over the years, inspiring people from both fields to explore our common appreciation of what is beautiful and clever.
So, here’s a thought: what if we re-interpret the language of life, and use it to create a small literary work? How, really, is the language running through all of living beings’ cells different from the languages we speak, read, and write? One creates life and diversity of nature, and one creates a civilization that is just as grand. Now, here goes my little “fool-around” experiment:
ACTCACGAGTCCACGGCTCGGCGGTATAACATCGGCCACACG (The Starry Night)
- Find the start codon (AUG)! Find the first instance of ATG from the start of the sequence—as this is the DNA sense strand, and T is transcribed to U from DNA to RNA. This is where you start. It should be no more than 10 nucleotides from the beginning.
- Find the stop codon (UGA, UAG, or UAA)! Find the first instance of TGA, TAG, or TAA from the end of the sequence. It should be no more than 10 nucleotides from the end.
- Translate the sequence! Match each three-letter codon to its corresponding amino acid. Translate from the start codon to the stop codon. Two options: if you want to try it yourself and do it manually (biologists never really do, to be honest), the chart here should help you. Starting from the start codon, the sequence is read 3 at a time (codons). Each corresponds one amino acid after transcription and translation. T is transcribed to U in RNA, so “GTC” in DNA would mean “GUC” in the RNA in the chart. Stop at stop codon.
Or, if you are lazy, put the section of the sequence from start codon to end codon into the “DNA sequence” blank at http://www.attotron.com/cybertory/analysis/trans.htm, an online translator. Click “transcribe>”, then “translate>”.
- Format it as a haiku! Assign spaces as appropriate. One line break is before the first amino acid V (Valine), and one is before the first amino acid W (Tryptophan).
Extra stuff for science lovers:
What are the little sequences at the ends? They actually have some significance—look them up (hint: restriction enzyme sites). This kind of construction is, in fact, often how genes (cDNAs) etc. are cloned in plasmids. Needed sequences are inserted into plasmids at desired sites using these added ends, through digestion followed by ligation.
By the way, some more nerdy specs:
Total length: 183 bp; GC%: 56%
Extra stuff for literature lovers:
The translated haiku can be considered a type of Oulipo poetry, a way of poetry writing with special constraints imposed on purpose. Specifically, this poem is a lipogram, as it completely avoids the alphabets B, J, O, U, X, and Z—the six alphabets not used in amino acid single-letter code. Other Oulipo poetry include cyclic poems, shape poems, and palindromic poems.
Peter Wang is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at email@example.com.
(Featured Image courtesy of Wikimedia.)