Cracking the Code, Genetics A La Mode
Am I banana? After watching NOVA’s “Cracking the Code of Life,” I asked myself this question of existential curiosity. No, according to the documentary, only 50 percent of human genes are identical to those of a banana. I revise my question. Am I 50 percent a banana? If so, would that make me a banana split? Do I taste good with ice cream? The inanity of these questions aside, their structures, I believe, do probe the possibilities of answering the question of “who we are.” The scientific explanation of this question is rendered through the analysis of DNA. The Genome Project, then, is a movement representing the scientific community’s pursuit of the answer.
I see the Genome Project as opening a pandora’s box of discovery, eating from a tree of knowledge of genetic potential, opening the floodgates to a brave new world , literary analogy, literary analogy, etc. Literary analogies work well in this context, because as the documentary explains, DNA is a code which the Genome Project is attempting to break. For me, it’s like analyzing literature–or analyzing the Zodiac Killer’s letters. DNA is like a long ladder of sentences. The irony of DNA is however, unlike a novel where one word or one sentence doesn’t affect the understanding, one single word in a sentence of DNA can change the whole game–a butterfly effect that can lead to catastrophe or good fortune. In this sense, DNA is like a poem. One word can change the meaning, can make the poem good, or can make the poem so bad it makes Great Expectations read like The Great Gatsby. Sadly, the metaphor for bad poetry or literature is more heartbreaking in the literal. In real life, as explored in the documentary, one tiny mistake in the DNA can cause problems, disorders, and disease–such as a child with Tay-Sachs. Because of this, the possibilities of mapping and decoding all of our genes is exciting. What problems can we isolate in order to cure, treat, and eradicate? But here’s where the literary analogies come in play: the dark side of genetic control. Subsequent to the push toward understanding our genes comes the possibilities of not only removing problems, but creating problems (disguised as solutions of course). In the future, I could ask, am I banana? I would answer no. But could my child be a banana? That’s a whole different story.