All Fourt6: A Biological Homage to Italo Calvino

Oh—said old GATC(U?)—you want to know about all those years I spent wound into curly X’s? Well, I was quite a bit longer, thinner than I am today, to be sure. It wasn’t that I was worrying about my image, you see, since the creature I inhabited had nothing to see me with. In fact, except for the occasional glance from a little insignificant mRNA I was alone, for the most part. (Sure, I knew that those mitochondria were sneaking occasional peeks at me through the transparent holes in the nucleus. Hard as I tried in my later days to conjure up codes for privacy proteins, I couldn’t get those diaphanous orifices to close up.)

Chromosomes? Yes, I suppose you might give that nickname to the irregular curls of my elongated body. To me they were the most natural form. Of course, there was the occasional mitosis every now and then that forced me, most uncomfortably, to unravel my sensitive body, chain of nucleotides that it was. It was at points unbearable, the buzzing of the enzymes as they replicated my every piece. Helicase was certainly the most painful, so rudely and unexpectedly unzipping me into two fragments with cold, surgical precision. I was later told—though I never noticed this myself—that during this procedure I would make the oddest of sounds (such as “Aah! Tee! Seayh! Ghee!”). Now, you may think of me as a weakling or even a crybaby, but I’d like to see you be stripped apart and copied by vouyeurish enzymes.

And don’t think I wasn’t aware of the mocking looks of the RNAs and ribosomes. I learned soon enough to put them in their place. It was by mere frustration, really, that I discovered the extent of my true power over them. I had been particularly peeved with a protein—I won’t name names, but I can assure you that if you had seen him, you would have shuddered in utter disgust as well. Since, in those days, I had little else to feel but the processing of my body, it took only a little observation and deduction to determine a connection, correlation, you might say, between that highly annoying protein and the processing of my 314,159,265th right flank. When I say “deduction,” I hope you will understand that it wasn’t exactly voluntary, that is, I had little will of my own, that is to say I did not exercise any mental power in the process, though the connection did prompt me to retract that 314,159,265th right flank in such a way that when its neighbors were processed, it felt numb, seemingly unnoticed by the enzymes. And thus—to my delight—the agonizingly unpleasant protein was gone.

In my rapture at the disappearance of that pesky protein, I wiggled triumphantly, basking in my newly perceived omnipotence, fiddling around with my long body’s configurations, shifting what you now call Adenines towards the ends of genes, shuffling around the Thymines to my fancy. I was powerful; the sneers of the mRNAs were now, I could see clearly, expressions of fear, acknowledgements of my supreme power. Now, you may say my conduct was irresponsible. After all, the proteins, you may protest, maintained the cell’s biochemical processes and kept alive my host creature. I admit I was a bit hasty in my decisions, for in my rush for revenge and momentary amusements (I had discovered that omitting the 67th and 670000000th nucleotides caused a momentary yet magnificent fireworks display) I had somehow become entangled in my own self. Even Helicase’s sharp scissors made no progress on the loops and knots. The proteins, some of whom had lost their significant others to my rampages, offered no help whatsoever, which I thought was a bit harsh of them. The sudden dissolution of the nuclear membrane only made things worse, putting me in the direct path of the Golgi apparatus’ judgmental gaze.

I realized after a couple hundred generations of this mockery—and I’m sure you’d agree with me—that a dysfunctional organism was no place for a DNA strand like me, destined (no doubt about it) to go to high places and endowed with an inborn superiority to the bags of fluid around me. Packing up my delicate body into 46 suitcases, I left that sticky slime of a creature in search of my promising future.

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