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There Was a Genome From Nantucket: Science Institute Solicits Poetry (For Better or Verse)

April 23, 2014

Perhaps you think that you shall never see a poem as lovely as the genome sequence of the loblolly pine tree—which, as you undoubtedly knew, happens to be the longest genome yet sequenced.

But the folks at the Joint Genome Institute are great believers in the loveliness of poetry, hailing it as “an underutilized method of communicating our science.” So the institute, operated for the U.S. Energy Department by UC Berkeley, has invited the public to help build a bank of verse throughout April in honor of National Poetry Month.

“As we continue to learn more about untapped potential energy and environmental applications in the projects we’re working on,” it declares, “we think it’s only fair to uncover budding poets in the process as well.”

Budding writers are encouraged to wax poetic about biogeochemistry, the carbon cycle, microbes, fungi and other topics of scientific inquiry at the institute. One category celebrates the short-and-sweet, restricting entries to a  mere 140 characters, spaces included. Another category focuses on a decade of community science programs, and a third—for entrants craving a real challenge—seeks poems composed solely of the single letter codes representing the 20 amino acids.

See how easy sonnet-scribe Shakespeare had it—he extolled merely the virtues of lowly love, not the lofty metagenome.

A sampling of poems submitted thus far:

Ode to a Gutless Worm:

Olavius algarvensis,
though you are gutless,
you’ve got critters right under your skin!
It’s a real symbiosis:
No need for osmosis
It’s bacterial growth from within.

You, Bus Eukaryotic,
haul your tourists microbic,
it’s a cool driver/passenger thing.
There’s some real interactions,
between you and your factions,
To science, you’re quite allure-ing!

Caitlin Youngquist

And another shared by Berkeley Lab’s Kevin Peet on behalf of his brother, who reportedly was once a contestant on Jeopardy.


“I have a dog,
His name is Felix.
His DNA’s
A double helix.
—Lindsay Peet

The institute’s mission is to advance genomics to support “clean energy generation and environmental characterization and cleanup,” and it incorporates the expertise of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

Not only does the institute promise worthy writers that their poems will be showcased, it is dangling the tantalizing potential prize of a free T shirt.

Here are the guidelines. Now what’s stopping you?

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