A note from the author




Note from the author
exploring the project


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I hope you enjoy your travels through my Human Genome poetry project. It has been a privilege to do this work - and an incredible experience. I have been working obsessively on it now for more than four years; in vastly different places – from the wildest unspoiled Scottish Highlands to the heart of the city centre - and through some exulted and exciting, but also downright appalling and despairing, times. But the Genome has remained fascinating throughout; a fantastic, beautiful poem - a magnificent work of Chemistry spanning four billion years of the art of Evolution.

As well as inspiring, I found it genuinely overwhelming that we are discovering such preserved kinship with all other living creatures on Earth - and even, staggeringly, with flowering plants and leaves; even the very soil beneath our feet. I found this profound connection to be astounding - but not, perhaps, ultimately surprising. To find that we share preserved limb bud genes with a bird, or share 99% genetic similarity with a mouse; or are related to a purple sea urchin - or Fruit Fly genes can be swapped with human and still operate due to our common ancestors - still leaves me breathless and full of genuine wonder.

I also found the amazing parallels between the idea of the ‘Word’ in religion and the genetic language metaphors of ‘letters’, ‘book’, ‘transcription’ and ‘translation’, relating to the creation of organic life, to be fascinating, beautiful, astounding and irresistible. The idea that we came from water and earth seems to accord with both religion and genetics. Fascinating. Though obviously taking four billion years in the scientific description… 

I feel most passionately that the Human Genome must be protected; that it belongs to all of us, collectively – even to the very animals and plants with whom we are so intimately connected. I have described the battle to keep the Genome in public hands and out of the private sector as an ‘epic’; and it has been – a true moral struggle, and, in my opinion, with the ‘Goodies’ and ‘Baddies’ clearly delineated... If everyone is to benefit from the human genetic code, then it is imperative that it stay publicly accessible - and is never bought and sold like a magnificent Rolls Royce broken down at a scrapyard. It is not fitting or morally right for our common heritage. Yet even now, thousands of patents are being taken out on human genetic sequences by private companies – while most of us are entirely unaware that this ‘theft’ of ourselves is going on right under our noses.

News of the mapping of the Human Genome was headlines around the world, being compared to deciphering ‘the handwriting of God’; but for most people, it is now fading away, back into a scientific and specialist arena - despite its staggering implications for all of us. It is up to all of us to make sure that we – as a gift of Nature, of Evolution, of God, or whatever you want to call this energetic process proceeding from that first burst among the heavens – stay in charge of the future of this work, for the benefit of all. The Human Genome truly needs our protection.

One of the reasons we find it difficult to keep up with genetic developments, is that we are simply not equipped with the right academic tools to understand the science. The day of the amateur scientist, able to keep abreast of developments or make his own contribution – such as in Victorian times - are long past. The science is now so fearsomely difficult and specialised, that some of the genetic research papers seemed, quite literally, to be written in a different language. Without advanced academic qualifications and a highly specialised education – and, let’s face it, how many of us are even born with the right intellectual equipment! – we are never going to be able to contend ‘directly’ with this work. I am suggesting, therefore, that instead art – most specifically here, poetry – is an ideal way for the everyday person to approach the new genetics. This artistic vision is a different approach; an exploration of the subject that is hopefully more approachable and comprehendible – that hopefully offers a different kind of illumination. I am suggesting that in this way, for most people, we will gain a fuller picture and greater understanding than a futile attempt on the pure science. That is why the scientists of the Human Genome Project themselves were drawn to poetic, almost ‘biblical’ language - to metaphor and analogy - to try to explain to the everyday man or woman the achievement of the mapping of the Human Genome. And such science, as you will see, is itself profoundly beautiful.

The Introduction explains a lot more about the project and how it all ‘evolved’ and the different subjects explored and interwoven. If I communicate even a fraction of the deep wonder and fascination I have experienced in my exploration of the Human Genome over the past few years, then I will be happy. But with so much to get through, perhaps I should let you get started…

In keeping with the interwoven ‘genomic’ nature of my project, I consider it to be a ‘living’ work - if you have any suggestions, ideas or comments, please leave a message, or get in touch, click here.


I would like to thank the Scottish Arts Council for its generous support; and B&T Productions for its extraordinary patience. I would like to praise the kind help, patience, and excellent suggestions of exemplary Highland Council Librarian, Jane Johnstone. And lastly, to express my appreciation for the long-stretched patience of my family over four obsessive years – including my fantastic and extraordinary husband, and extremely wonderful, joyful son, whose light-filled smile always zaps me with renewed courage and energy.

‘The Human Genome will be the foundation of biology for decades, centuries or millennia to come.’ Sir John Sulston, Leader, UK Human Genome Project

‘Today we celebrate the revelation of the first draft of the human book of life… it is humbling for me and awe inspiring to realise that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God.’                         Dr Francis Collins, Leader, US Human Genome Project

‘Being able to read the Genome will tell us more about our origins, evolution, nature and our minds that all the efforts of science to date - it is  the greatest intellectual monument in history… The three letter words of the genetic code are the same in every creature – CGA mean arginine and GCG means alanine in bats, beetles, beech trees, bacteria…whatever animal, plant, bug, you look at, if it is alive it will use the same dictionary and know the same code. All life is one…The unity of life is an empirical fact.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000

‘In the beginning was the Word.’ John 1, 1, The Bible

‘…we find poetry, as it were, substantiated and realized in nature: yea, nature itself disclosed to us... as at once the poet and the poem!’                                                 Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘All life is chemistry.’ Jan Baptista van Helmont, 1648

‘The Human Genome Project, the reading of the book of mankind, does have the potential to impact on the lives of every person on this planet.’                                     Dr Michael Dexter, Director, The Wellcome Trust, UK

‘If the labours of Men of science should ever create any material revolution, direct or indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the poet will sleep then no more than at present: he will be ready to follow the steps of the Man of science, not only in those general indirect effects, but he will be at his side, carrying sensation into the midst of the objects of the science itself. The remotest discoveries of the Chemist, the Botanist or Mineralogist will be as proper subjects of the poet’s art as any upon which it can be employed.’                                                                                                                             Wordsworth, Preface, Second Edition, Lyrical Ballads, 1800