Everyone writes a little poetry now and then—usually under some kind of emotional pressure. I started writing verses for biotechnology when I took my company's course in Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR. This is the common technique for amplifying a fragment of DNA into millions of identical multiple copies for analysis. It was in this course that I actually fell in love with the DNA molecule. And here is the result.


Today in our class we performed PCR
on the molecule that makes us the people we are.

First scrape your cheek, or else rinse and spit,
then spin down and dilute to obtain only a bit.

Next you must make the mix that’s the master.
Well, don’t just stand there—pipette it faster!

dNTP’s, magnesium, AmpliTaq™, buffer.
Oops, forgot primer! Your reaction will suffer.

Denature with heating, and cooling anneals.
Double strands split apart. It’s like unwinding eels.

3-prime binds to left, 5-prime on this side,
and the enzyme attaches each nucleotide.

Next hydrogen knits A’s to T’s, G’s to C’s,
with pair bonds arranged in twos and in threes.

Ethidium bromide then sits down and glows
on product, and primer, and unmixed agarose.

Finally, at last, you have a photograph plot
that will show up your blobs—or maybe not.

You see ladders and lanes, and a possible shiner,
but everyone says that it’s just primer-dimer.

And then, toward the end of our three days in class,
you get polymerase chain reaction and—hot damn!—you pass.

That lead to the following somewhat more ambitious bit of verse. This one is sung to the tune of “The Modern Major General” from The Pirates of Penzance. As with the actual Gilbert & Sullivan, it helps if you take a deep breath and get a running start.


I am the very model of a modern matrix molecule,
With so much more to tell than you had learned about me back in school.
I manufacture proteins that coordinate your chemistry.
Still, ninety-odd percent of me remains an utter mystery.

My backbone’s made of sugar rings held together with a phosphate bond.
They’re called “deoxy ribose,” ’cause 2-prime hydroxyl’s up and gone.
My inside’s laced with purines cross-connected with pyrimidines
So base pairs complementary can re-align my in-betweens.

I match guanine’s rings to cytosine, and thymines pair with adenines.
My alphabet in sequence reads G-C-T-A—or so it seems.
The bonds attach both ways, you see, T-A by two, G-C by three.
So my alphabet can crosswise be interpreted C-G-A-T.

With letters four I implement a code made up in groups of trey.
These codons, done in triplicate, call amino acids into play.
The third pair makes a wobble, which helps uncertainty to gobble up
The SNPs degenerate that otherwise would bobble up.

Those twenty little building blocks, amino acids in a race—
The three codons left over conjugate to put a stop in place—
With RNA transcription, and a ribosome's conscription,
They zip along the sequence making proteins to prescription.

I’ve been around a long, long time in fossilized bacteria.
Still with bugs and viruses I’m found in the local cafeteria.
You really cannot do without me, or do very much about me,
Yet the scientists today know how to play with and re-route me.

In twenty years or so you’ll see a brand-new form of molecule.
Your kids will learn to program me in science class at grammar school,
Make bunnies with those day-glow genes and mice with catlike pheromone,
And then, to your disgust, the little dears will want to bring them home.

One of the joys of corporate life is having all of your work on a server that you do not personally maintain and cannot always access. Four hours sitting on my hands without being able to use any of my files lead to the next rhyme. Sing it to the tune of “When You're a Jet” from West Side Story.


When you’re all set to begin a new day,
Then the server goes down, and your screen remains gray.
When you’re all set with assignments to post,
Then the server goes down and, oh man, you are toast!

Your software’s installed!
Your keyboard is a-clickin’!
You’re ready to boot!
But your files ain’t stickin’!

When the server goes down, there’s just nothing to do.
The network drive that you mapped is nowhere in the queue.
When the server goes down, all the files that you had
Just go into thin air and, oh man, that’s too bad!

Get IT on the phone!
Voice says with a smirk,
“No problems are known!”
You think, oh what a jerk!

When you’re all set, and the server goes down,
The first day’s not too bad, ’cause you just play around.
Second day’s worse… and then by the fourth day,
And the server’s still down, oh man, cart me away!

When the server goes down,
Little man, you’re a clown!
Better get set… to stay…
That way!

Some things just come to you.

This clock must be broken.
Time is running backwards.
Tock-tick, tock-tick, tock-tick.

And finally, a prayer at bedtime …

Now I lay me in my grave.
Everything I have I gave.
If I should wake before I die,
Pray let me look God in the eye.