Monday, January 30, 2012

DNA as Storytelling

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the ultimate nonfiction storyteller. 

It does not lie. It does not exaggerate. It has the awesome ability to tell us everything about a person, from their gender to their predisposition for inheriting certain diseases. The genetic makeup (or story) of any given individual is housed in their genome, which contains all of the information that makes you you. 

I have a long and heated relationship with genomics. For three years during my undergraduate degree [Animal Science/Pre-Vet], I worked in the bovine genomics lab, and during that time, witnessed hundreds of "stories" told by bovine genes from across the country. The stories from Japanese cows told me how their genetic makeup made them more tender. The stories from a large sample of cows across the country alerted me to the relationship between the Uncoupling Protein 1 (UCP1) gene and insulin resistance. 

DNA storytelling has practical applications beyond me making beef more tender. It has revolutionized criminal justice, in a sense betraying its human counterpart by staying true to its genetic makeup and allowing us to identify criminals. On the flip side, it allows us to exonerate innocent suspects. 

I love DNA, genomics, and everything in between, but there is a reason I found myself in an English department. DNA is not a very engaging storyteller. It makes you work for the stories, imprisoned in a lab (often all night) and it frequently amuses itself by making you rerun tests until you get the story right. I am now in a happy place where I can read the published stories, but rest assured that my lab coat is permanently hung up. 

If you can't tell from the post, I am in an identity crisis, caught between my scientific inclinations and my newly found love of RPC.  

I also think scars are an alternate form of storytelling, but I'll save that for class. 


  1. Facebook as storytelling

    I am fascinated by Facebook and the sharing of information, from engagements, birthdays, heartbreaks, what people are reading, eating and where they are travelling.
    There are million pieces of stories that can be put together from posts.
    The everyday things and how people respond is fascinating, and Facebook gives us a very public, yet very private space to share and vent and shout about anything. And, anything can be turned into a story.
    I am actually doing a character study based on a friend and her posts. I have altered her life situation, but it is fun.
    It is interesting to see, for example, how some of my high school friends' lives have progressed, and if they have or have not done waht they dreamed of in high school. It is a little window into very personal stories. Also, there is a sharing of feelings that keeps everyone in your list of contacts connected. You can share or like their posts, and if you get tired of them, well, you can defriend them. There is always new and exciting information flowing every single second. It is passing along your everyday stories and sharing them with friends and family and you get to experience theirs in a very vicarious and unique way.
    It is a new way of passing along our stories and feeling like you are leaving a little mark when people respond and the conversation expands and influences more than you thought it would.

  2. @AngelaPaola
    I think you meant this to be its own post instead of a response to Dana DeRego's.

    @Dana DeRego

    This is a really interesting idea, the concept of how a genome can tell a story. Since you already have experience doing the work of extracting these kinds of stories from them, it'd be fun if you conglomerated the best of these stories and translated them into a prose form, something verbally interesting that communicates the type of story you are talking about in an easier-to-swallow form than the scientific jargon of a lab.

    In other words, re-tell to us (audiences in general) the stories the genomes told to you.

  3. Dana, I am loving DNA as narrative. It's so cool to think of the stories we are given to live out versus the ones we create. Maybe we create both?
    Great new way to look at storytelling though!

  4. I love this because it is so true! A person's genetic history can be found in their DNA! The DNA form would be a great theme and form for a future magazine too!

  5. I think you found a great new form of storytelling. I would have never though about it at all!

    As a counterargument, how much does DNA really tell us about a person/entity? It tells us the "cold" facts but not much more, not what we enjoy to eat or what kind of movies we like. And these to me are the "facts" that are important about a person, not his/her medical history for example. But indeed, it is a story, a true one.

  6. I always found DNA interesting. After reading this, I want to know more.