Protein Poems is a collaborative process that generates poetry through conversation following an outline of proteogenesis – the creation of a protein from DNA.

It Starts with a Conversation

Protein Poems begins with a large group of people being divided up into different ‘cells’.  The members of each ‘cell’ sit across from one another in parallel, like double-stranded DNA, though this isn’t necessary.  Each group is provided a topic for discussion, and as their conversation unfolds they create the cell’s ‘DNA’.

(DNA contains the blueprint for producing each protein for every cell in your body. DNA is made up of nucleotides: adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine. During the first step of creating a protein, DNA helicase pulls apart DNA’s double-helix shape so that RNA-polymerase can attach to and copy a single strand of DNA into an RNA-transcript, using the nucleotide uracil in place of thymine.)

The Important Stuff Gets Through

For the performance, alongside each group a stenographer transcribes the conversation in the same way RNA-polymerase transcribes DNA into an RNA-transcript. Using Skype (or another chat medium), this transcript is sent to the poet who is unaware of the selected topic of conversation.

(Within the cell, the RNA transcript is further processed and often re-arranged in a process called post-transcriptional modification, allowing for a single section of DNA to be copied and processed into several different RNA transcripts and proteins. Then the RNA transcript is taken to the ribosome where it is translated into a protein.)

Copy/Paste Poetry

The finale begins once the poet receives the transcript. Their role is to take the chat transcript and turn it into poem. They have two main rules: first, while they can delete individual words or phrases within a message, they cannot rearrange the words within the message line; and secondly poets, without changing the order of words within a message, can shuffle the message lines themselves.  Once poets finish they are read the Protein Poem to the audience.

(The ribosome ‘reads’ each set of three (now) RNA nucleotides  as a codon that codes for an amino acid, the building blocks of proteins (ie. GCA = alanine).  Each codon is then translated into an amino acid, building a protein one amino acid at a time.  In this way, a protein is made from a single-stranded RNA sequence that was copied from a double-stranded DNA sequence.  Many RNA sequences can be rearranged and use to create more complex proteins.)

A Fast, Easy Example

Let’s say two people are having conversation about food. It is recorded that they say:

I like hamburgers.
But I don’t like hot dogs. 

These two lines are sent to the Poet. The Poet CANNOT rearrange the first sentence into: hamburgers, I like.  They CAN, however, delete individual words: But I don’t like hot dogs.  They can also CAN shuffle the lines:

I don’t like hot dogs, 
I like hamburgers.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the essence of how Protein Poems are made.


See Protein Poems Here!


Conceptual Design

  • Winston Myers
  • Phillip Wozny
  • Morgan Bailey
  • Jack Frazee
Stenographers/Poets/Participants

  • Too many to count over the years, we thank you all!