"Get a life, bio-dorks"*

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Last week, private genome sequencer Craig Venter and his team announced that they had constructed the genome of a bacterium using just off-the-shelf chemicals for the first time. In addition, the researchers had included "watermarks" encoding secret messages in the genome. The New York Times reports that the secret messages have now been decoded and they are, well, disappointingly humdrum. To wit:

Wired Science reported Monday that it had ferreted out the messages, with help from government scientists. One watermark said "VenterInstitvte," using the unusual spelling because there is no amino acid represented by the letter "u."

The other messages were CraigVenter, HamSmith, GlassandClyde and CindiandClyde for his co-authors Hamilton O. Smith, Clyde A. Hutchison III, John I. Glass and Cynthia Andrews-Pfannkoch. A Venter spokeswoman confirmed them.

The Times adds that some more imaginative German scientists had installed a line from Virgil's "Georgics" in their engineered cress plants. The line? "Neither can every soil bear every fruit." All right, all right–that's a bit pretentious. But is it really too much to ask for a little doggerel in the DNA?

*Headline explanation: Frequent H&R commenter Episiarch's suggestion for the decoded message.

NEXT: How the Not-Really-Very-Mighty Have Fallen

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  1. My guess was “Craig Venter is the greatest”. I think I came closest of the commenters.

    (BTW, venter is Latin for abdomen, and is commonly used in biology to refer to the bottom side of snakes (e.g. the ventral side, or venter). Therefore, Craig-boy’s own name proclaims that he is at least as low as a snake’s belly.)

  2. Here’s what would be really funny:

    Life on Earth goes extinct.

    One of these engineered microbes has, in the meantime, hitched a ride to Mars on one of our probes which wasn’t properly sterilized. [Hey, maybe it tags along as a result of deliberate sabotage – a joke on the part of some NASA flunky.]

    Somehow the microbe adapts to Martian conditions and becomes the basis for the evolution of life on Mars on a wide scale.

    One day, Martian scientists are about to break free of the control of the terrible Martian churches – but at that moment, secret messages encoded in the DNA of all Martian life are uncovered in some Martian lab.

    The evil Martian churches seize upon this discovery as indisputable proof of intelligent design being the origin of all life.

    Martian civilization enters a 50000 year Dark Age held in thrall to the Church of VenterInstitvte.

  3. innominate: Yes, you’re right. But the “biodork” comment better expresses disappointment in Venter’s lack of imagination.

  4. Hey, I won! What did I win?

    Nothing? You have a lot of nerve, Ron.

  5. You won… TWO free iPod nanos!

  6. Is it me or do we need to clean up the amino acid code. I mean, you can easily substitute ‘V’ for ‘U’, but there isn’t an ‘O’? But there’s a ‘Q’?

  7. Haven’t you heard?
    Q is the new O.

  8. Q is the new O?

    Nq way!

  9. With a Q, but no U and no O that severely limits the words you can spell. In fact pretty much any word with a Q will be spelled wrong.
    -J.R.

  10. In fact pretty much any word with a Q will be spelled wrong.

    Not every word…

    The word IRAQ appears three times in the amino acid sequence.

    IRAN appears only once.

    I am not a bio-dork.

  11. lunchstealer – and to make it worse, the Q is the code for Glutamine. O_o How’s a first-year biochem student supposed to remember that?!?

    The rest of the single-letter code makes sense, with the exception of W (for Tryptophan) but that one’s my favorite because I enjoy saying, “twiptophan”.

    /card-carrying bio-dork

  12. imaginative German scientists had installed a line from Virgil’s “Georgics” in their engineered cress plants. The line? “Neither can every soil bear every fruit.”

    Fuckin’ Germans…

    What, no Arbeit macht frei?!!

  13. The evil Martian churches seize upon this discovery as indisputable proof of intelligent design being the origin of all life.

    But… in this case, they’d be right.

  14. What a piece of arbeit is Paul!

    They done good-

    Ut varias usus meditando extunderet artis paulatim ergo , audacibus annue coeptis

  15. Russel,

    I am a piece of arbeit. I’m German. How do you think I know?

  16. If I were in charge of choosing an encoded message, I would have picked one of the following:

    – Call Jenny eight six seven five three oh nine

    – A man walks into a talent agent’s office and [extremely long gene sequence elided here] and the talent agent says what do you call that act and the man says The Aristocrats!

    – Forty two

  17. Not fish! Snake scale!

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