Forum calls on lovers of verse to find muse in genomics

August 26, 2010

Shall I compare thee to some DNA? Or to paraphrase Wordsworth: "Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour: Genomics hath need of thee."

Biologist bards have been invited to take inspiration from the field of genomics in a poetry competition run by the Economic and Social Research Council's Genomics Forum. The call for entries poses philosophical and factual questions around the mapping of the human genome, which was completed in 2007, such as: "Do we even want to live for ever? Or, like the Sibyl, do we think that death gives life its meaning?"

Steven Yearley, director of the Genomics Forum and one of the judges, said he hoped the contest would emulate the success of a short story competition held last year.

He explained that entries in 2009 varied from the serious to the playful: "They all picked up on the many social dimensions of what it is to have knowledge of your genomic identity or destiny, what it means to wrestle with yourself in an age where we know so many things we didn't know before."

The competition builds on the Genomics Forum's aim to reflect the social aspect of genomics as well as the technical.

Professor Yearley said that the field had great scope to inspire poetry: "People might be inspired by the shape of the genome itself, or from the way genes are named, or maybe something more abstract like genomes and destiny."

He said last year's winning short story had been "a very good reflection on the burden of genetic knowledge and the existential dilemmas it creates for people".

The best poems would be published, but not as a book, said Professor Yearley: "It could be a fold-up thing or perhaps something a bit more funky, such as a Rubik's Cube."

He added that he would not be entering an effort of his own: "I gave up poetry before my GCSEs. That was when I realised that my poetry really sucked," he said.

Details of the competition can be found at: http://bit.ly/aBNCm2

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com.

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