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The Waltz Of The Ribosomes

by Greg Crowther


This poem was written for a Seattle-area series of poetry readings on "Genetics and the poetics of life." It covers the cellular processes of transcription and translation. As an illustration, the DNA sequences in the first stanza are transcribed into RNA sequences in the second stanza, which are then translated into amino acid sequences in the third stanza.


T G G, C T T, G G & A.
The DNA bases are the letters I say.
A T G, A C C, A G & C.
They're part of a gene from the family tree.

A C C, G A A, C C & U.
Transcription of DNA is easy to do.
U A C, U G G, U C & G.
The A's go with U's, and the G's go with C's.

Threonine, glutamic acid, and proline.
The mRNA gets translated to protein.
Tyrosine, tryptophan, serine, and stop!
Translation is halted by a stop codon cop.

What have we heard here, and what have we learned?
There's DNA, RNA, and protein in turn.
RNA's copied from DNA strands,
And protein is built using RNA plans.

Such is the way by which cells can make hay
From T G G, C T T, G G & A.

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Study Questions

(1) What terms are commonly used for making RNA from DNA and making protein from RNA, respectively?

(2) Is there a stop codon in the text of this poem? If so, what is it?

(3) For clarity, the DNA sequence in the first stanza and the RNA sequence in the second stanza are written out in a way that highlights their complementarity. What genetic convention does this violate?

(4) How does this poem's "waltz" rhythm help reinforce its meaning?

(Answers may be found on the answers page.)