Messages encoded into Ventner's complete genetic map: WTF?

I’ve heard this before, and am now more interested:
In the sequence chain, Ventner encoded–how?–at least two quotations.
One was from Feynman, which he apparently got seriously wrong, and another by James Joyce, whose estate, notorious for its ball-busting, demanded he pull it. Cite.
He said that he would rewrite the genetic code.

  1. I think its cool, in a high-school way. But, as a major scientific project resource already in use, filled with essentially are easter eggs…WTF?? And its now going to change at the modeler’s whim because of some sophomoric stunts?
  2. I am sure there is a lot more private jokey (even if meaningful to some–hell, look at my name) inclusions in the code. Again…WTF?
  3. Is it even made public what the process is to “encode” plain text to a DNA sequence?

What exactly is the question? Are you asking why they did it? Because they could.

As for how to encode the text, binary maps quite conveniently onto a set of four base nucleotides, so ASCII would work easily enough.

That is not scientific method. Or am I being whooshed?

I suspect Forbes probably wouldn’t give it much more than a mention if he had just changed the genome to random gibberish. It’s just a clever way to give his research more media attention by making a story out of it.

It’s the difference between science and engineering, then: Science demonstrates what’s possible, engineering actually does it, and engineers do things to show off. :wink:

Also, the All-Holy All-Fired All-Encompassing ‘Scientific Method’ you learned in grade school has little to do with how real science is done in the labs. It’s relevant to an extent, but it is by no means the only way science progresses.

And if you’re worried about having the “wrong” data “corrupt” the genome, or misleading anyone using it, don’t be. The amount of DNA needed to encode a couple of pithy quotes is absolutely minuscule compared to the total, and they probably put it in one of the sequences that doesn’t have any genes.

I don’t really understand what you’re asking, either. From your OP, it seems like perhaps you think that these quotes were inserted in the human genome data (which Venter was involved in sequencing).

The news story is about something else entirely: a synthetic genome inserted into a bacterium. The “watermarks” in the DNA were inserted as a signature to show that it was artificial. From Wikipedia:

I don’t see why you are concerned that the watermarks consisted of encoded quotations rather than any other distinctive pattern of bases.

It’s not a woosh. Scientists often will do silly stunts with newly invented or improved techniques. For example, scientists who make improvements to devices that can manipulate individual atoms will often draw pictures with them, like a world map or the Enterprise. So once we were able to manufacture customized sequences, naturally the first thing to do would be encode some silly quote or whatnot. Same reason they brought a golf club to the moon. Or why many organisms have silly or honorary names (like the louse named after Gary Larson).

And in case you didn’t know the context, Ventner is the guy who secretly switched in his own genome to be mapped by the Human Genome Project. If anything, you should wonder why he didn’t encode a bitmap image of his own face into the new bacterium.