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The Poetry and Revolution of the Human Genome

 by Bennett Gordon

Tags: Science and Technology, human genome, poetry, Freeman Dyson, the Believer, the New York Review of Books,

DNA PoetryResearchers unlocking the secrets of our DNA may be sparking a new Romantic Age, Freeman Dyson writes for the New York Review of Books. The years between 1770 and 1830, often referred to as the Romantic Age, were characterized by an explosion of both scientific and artistic achievements. Dyson wonders if that billionaire technocrats—like Craig Venter, who led the charge to map the first human genome, and Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway—might play a role similar to “the lightened aristocrats of the eighteenth century.” 

What today's revolution lacks, according to Dyson, is poetry. “Poetry, the dominant art form in many human cultures from Homer to Byron, no longer dominates.” He suggests that biology could become today’s dominant art form, and that creating new kinds of plants and animals could combine art with science.

Enter Christian Bök. In an interview with the Believer, Bök talks about his plans to implant a poem into “an organism that is widely regarded to be the most unkillable bacterium on the planet.” He’s working with scientists to translate a poem into a genetic sequence, that would then be implanted into a portion of the bactirum’s DNA. If it works, Bök’s project, which he calls The Xenotext Experiment, could become “a book that would still be on the planet Earth when the sun explodes.”

Bök told the Believer, “I guess that this is a kind of ambitious attempt to think about art, quite literally, as an eternal endeavor.”

To hear Christian Bök talk about The Xenotext Experiment, watch the video below:

Sources: The New York Review of BooksThe Believer