Art, Science and the Apocalypse

In a world where it is becoming increasingly likely that natural disasters and/or a nuclear holocaust could eliminate life on our planet, humans are searching for ways to preserve the fund of knowledge we’ve accumulated over the 300,000 years of our existence. One of the most creative ideas we’ve heard lately comes from the Canadian poet, Christian Bök, who chose the indestructible bacterium, D. radiodurans, as the vehicle in which information could be inserted and protected even under the harshest conditions. Bök turned to genetic engineering techniques to translate his own poetry into DNA and proteins that were incorporated into the bacterium. As exciting and innovative as this new technique is, important questions remain. Probably the most important is how extraterrestrial visitors to our devastated planet would know if D. radiodurans did indeed survive, and that its DNA encoded our most important achievements? Moreover, what data do we have that even this titan of a sturdy little bacterium would survive a nuclear holocaust intact or that the information it contained wouldn’t be corrupted as the bacterium reproduced?

For more on this remarkable story, read author Gayathri Vaidyanathan’s article in the Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences Journal, titled “Could a bacterium successfully shepherd a message through the apocalypse?

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