The science poem entries are in from Lifeology’s July SciComm Challenge!

For the rest of this month, we will be featuring a selection of the submitted poems, centered around different themes. The theme for the collection of poems included below is Mutation, Mystery & ‘Going Viral

Enjoy these poems submitted by Freya Masters, Aidan Baker & Paul Boisvert!

dna helix molecule, Biochemistry Concept. Hand drawn watercolor illustration with copy space

Poem 1 – The Mystery of Mutation, Freya Masters


“A myriad of molecular chaos and confusion”

The Mystery of Mutation

By Freya Masters

A fault in DNA which you cannot see
Bases not quite sown at the seams
Thread by thread coming free
We know not why, it’s a mystery

An imperfection in the genetic code
A loss of information, precious and bestowed
Thread by thread coming free
We know not why, it’s a mystery

On the ladder of DNA, a misplaced stair
Bases a little torn here, a little frayed there
Thread by thread coming free
We know not why, it’s a mystery

Deletion, mismatch, substitution
A myriad of molecular chaos and confusion
Thread by thread coming free
We know not why, it’s a mystery

Behind the Scenes, from Freya:

I am a final-year undergraduate studying biochemistry at the University of St Andrews with an interest in science communication and writing. My poem centers on metaphorically describing disease-causing genetic mutations, with the idea that we can picture the DNA double helix as unwinding threads or as a broken stair due to the mutations. However, often the cause of genetic mutations are unknown and remain a mystery.

his focus is close to my heart as I have a rare form of muscular dystrophy, with the specific mutation responsible for my condition never seen before in my subtype. My older brother Luke also has Type one diabetes, which a myriad of genetic mutations can cause. I hope you enjoy my poem!

Jordan’s Discussion:

Mutations are anomalies that occur in our genetic code when it replicates itself. As this poem describes, they can be deletions or substitutions in the DNA bases, creating DNA mismatches.

Mutations can be seen as a mystery, except when looking through the lens of evolution. Mutations are the way in which genetic diversity arises, which is one prerequisite for evolution to occur. Considering a very large timescale, mutations that are beneficial help the organism survive and are passed on, which eventually leads to evolutionary adaptation. It is only through evolution that we can unravel the mystery of mutations!

~More info on mutation & evolution~

Poem 2 – Going Viral, Aidan Baker


“RNA virus…transcribing itself proof-free, changing its story often.”

Going Viral

By Aidan Baker

RNA transcribes
DNA to make blueprints
informing protein.
This step includes proof-reading
to fix or block mutations.

“RNA virus”
means one with no DNA,
only RNA
transcribing itself proof-free,
changing its story often.

It does much good, true.
But in my mind its whispers
turn reinforcements
to three-and-fourpence still — spin
endlessly, maintain the war.

Behind the Scenes, from Aidan:

I am a non-scientist married to a science journalist, who sometimes tests her writing’s comprehensibility by showing it to me. She brought your competition to my attention. Searching for a subject, I came across a story in the local paper, which contained the paragraph: “The virus is what is known as an RNA virus, which means it is prone to errors every time it replicates. This means that reading — or sequencing — the virus’s genetic code can provide valuable information on its biology and transmission” (Zayed 2020, ‘Pinpointing virus ancestry helps hospital tackle Covid’, Cambridge news, 16 July 2020, p.7.). Clare’s additional explanation of that process powered a sequence of three tankas (a trademark form of mine).

The poem is also inspired by some curiosity about the old story of “Send reinforcements, I am going to advance“, mutating to “Send three and fourpence, I am going to a dance“. That anecdote is a bit dated now; has anything succeeded it as a favoured illustration of the distortions caused by chains of whispers?

Jordan’s Discussion:

RNA viruses – like the one the world is currently feeling the impact of – are a particularly tricky family of viruses. This is because the RNA genetic material within an RNA virus doesn’t use host cells’ robust DNA proofreading machinery. So when these virus replicates, the genetic material can have a very high mutation rate, which may enable it to spread and change quickly. However, some RNA viruses including the coronaviruses do have their own proofreading mechanisms! They still mutate over time but much more slowly.

~More info on RNA viruses~

Poem 3 – Our Shots, by Paul Boisvert


“The rapidity of contagion, measured as ‘R naught’… The world isn’t ending, but the situation’s fraught”

Behind The Scenes with Paul:

I was inspired to write this when I saw the movie version of Hamilton and then saw your contest promotion. After all, I was already aware that a “Hamiltonian” was the scientific term used for the sum of all particle energies in a molecule. So I guess it was fate that the three elements had to come together by a science writer. It’s my first poem submission ever, and it’s more satirical than poetical, but I had fun writing it.

Jordan’s Discussion:

The world is relying on a vaccine to prevent further spread of SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19). Meanwhile – with some people are disregarding health precautions and trying unproven medical therapies – the virus continues to spread. As is spreads, it also allows for the virus to potentially mutate, as described in a Healthline article: “Every virus mutates; it’s part of the virus life cycle”.

And SARS-CoV-2 is no exception – recent research (published in the BioRxiv pre-print server on June 12, 2020) is proposing that a mutation in the coronavirus spike protein (the part that binds to human cells and initiates infection) has created a new SARS-CoV-2 variant that may be more infectious than the original.

As highlighted in this poem, the importance of a Covid-19 vaccine (as well as adhering to local public health guidelines and best practices in virus hygiene) cannot be understated.

~More info on mutation & Covid-19~

~Covid-19 mutation study~

While you’re here, check out the Science Poem Challenge Winner – Maria Violaris – with her poem Alice and Bob: The Detectives that Don’t Exist’