science art

A ride on the DNA machine

collage of black and white science illustrations and shapes with DNA polymerase overlay and red DNA stitching

To keep the pressure low, I always give myself a little pep talk as the deadline for the Kick-About on Red’s Kingdom blog nears, “don’t worry, if Phil announces the theme for the next Kick-About and you don’t have a single idea, that’s okay – it’s totally okay.” But when he announced that the theme for Kick-About #9 was a musical composition by John Adams entitled a “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” oh, I had ideas. Because there is an incredibly fast machine operating inside of you – countless times a day, taking you on a too short ride from the moment of conception until the day you die: your DNA replication machinery. This complex machine, made up of dozens of components, makes an exact copy of your DNA in preparation for your cells to divide.

First, the prompt:

Next, the connection: There are a lot of animations of what the DNA replication looks like inside of your cells, but this one is short (only 1 minute) and does a good job of showing how fast and complex this machine truly is:

I went back to an A4 paper sized collage, which I had done for the first Kick-About I’d participated in (Kick-About #4: Orphée). I like how this format lets a story form freely around the images. But it does present a challenge for me to photograph and/or scan. The top image was the best photograph I could capture and below are some close-ups.

Closeup of black and white DNA machine collage showing detail

The overlaid transfer print is of the DNA replication machinery (same as shown in the video) midway through making a copy of the genome. The imperfect transfer speaks to the fact that DNA replication does go awry sometimes – as we age, in certain diseases such as cancer, and in some inherited diseases. I was really inspired by Kerfe’s stitched Cicada wings in the last Kick-About and decided to continue the DNA helixes by stitching, letting the ends unravel. We are learning more about our genome all the time, but human heredity is extremely complex, and not all of it is written in the DNA code itself. We have much yet to discover and even more to understand.

In the end, it is always too short of a ride – but at least the journey is made, in part, on this very fast, very elegant, machine inside of you.