Thursday, April 02, 2009

All Power to the Government of the Dead (Labour)

My chapbook, Desequencer, is now available from TAXT. It's free and it features lovely drawings from one of my oldest friends in the world, Daniel Subkoff. All you have to do is write Suzanne Stein ask her for a copy. The e-mail address is on the TAXT site. Thanks to Suzanne and Erin Morrill for their hard work putting it together.

In other news, we here at Little Red's Recovery room heart "bossnapping," plant occupations and the wit of the G20 meltdown participants. We'd like to see all of that and more out here in Cali.

On the subject of bossnapping, I am of course reminded of Godard's excellent Tout Va Bien, also the title of an also excellent chapbook by Suzanne, which brings me full circle.

I'm pretty sure that no bosses were kidnapped in the making of Suzanne's Tout Va Bien, but you never know.

This is the preface to Desequencer:

A Correction
What follows is an annotation of the sequence of nucleotides which form the
human genome. Or rather, an annotation of their representation as letters, since
the “genome”—itself an abstraction—is not letters but molecules. From this
distinction, often effaced, many aberrations issue.

And yet, while it is no doubt a distortion to describe genetic material as code,
as language, consisting of messages, signals or instructions, such an account is
not without its truth. It is only assigned to the wrong object. What such
abstractions do describe, in fact, is the world which a heroic science would
realize. Writing from Dublin during Second World War, Erwin Schrödinger’s
invocation of a substance in the chromosome which was both “law-code and
executive power,” able to counteract the inherent entropy of matter, smacks of
the authoritarian core of a world in ruins. Taken up by Cold War societies in
the midst of 1950s future-rapture, it referred to nothing so much as the real
abstraction of life in advanced capitalism, the real state of affairs within a
highly administered and rationalized society. The cell in biology textbooks is a
picture of a technocratic dream world, perfectly ordered by networks of
command and commission. And so, fifty years after the transformations
inaugurated by the model of DNA that James Watson and Francis Crick
devised, now more than ever the scriptural model of the genome is also a
practical truth, an abstraction which real practices have made concrete. If
genes were never originally a code, the information technology for their
sequencing, analysis and synthesis has certainly made them so.

In genetic science, the bad conscience of capitalist society—its knowledge that
the difference between those who do and those who do not own things is
nothing but the history of theft, violence, lies—finds a perfect opportunity to
render true a favorite fable about why things are as they are, to realize those
fictive differences between classes and races that have required such vigorous
ideological exertion. Done with the ambiguity of class, done with the endless
work of racialization: what the enclosure and privatization of the genome
dreams of is the transformation of class into species.

Of course, this catastrophe will have to get in line behind the other faces of
gross imbalance. The passage from gene to protein and back is no more easily
navigated than the passage from the particular to the abstract and back.
Therein lie weird folds, feedback loops, irreversible changes, crises, gaps,
monsters. It is to that intermediate terrain—the not yet real of the not quite
abstract—that the following attends.


Brook said...

Hey Jasper. Miss you a lot.

RE: Desequencer Prologue, capitalism and the genome.

Below find the complete text of an article about "genetic barcodes."

If it disgusts you sufficiently, you may be interested in a related article (by said comrades)about "species inflation". Info below. You may be alarmed to learn that pink taxonomists are inflating the value of species (not specie) currency (not=occurrency).

Much love from me.

What's in a name? - Categorising new species.
820 words
4 January 2003
The Economist
(c) The Economist Newspaper Limited, London 2003. All rights reserved

It might be better to identify species by number, not name
FOR thousands of years, humanity has classified the living things of this world in much the same fashion: by their appearance. If it looks like a duck, walks and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. But tackling millions of species in this way has proven to be a recipe for confusion. As taxonomists have found to their cost, what looks like a duck may in fact be a goose.
More recently, genetic techniques have been applied, particularly for distinguishing the more difficult-to-identify species such as viruses and bacteria by comparing pieces of DNA. Might this approach be more generally applicable? Paul Hebert and his colleagues at the University of Guelph, in Canada, think it might be. Just as barcodes and the "universal product code" numbering scheme uniquely identify different items at a supermarket checkout, they suggest that some stretches of DNA could perform a similar function in living things. In a paper just published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, they discuss how long such a genetic barcode needs to be, and where it might be found.
A universal product code found on the high street consists of a string of 11 digits, each of which is one of ten numerals, providing 100 billion unique combinations. Genetic material, however, uses a quaternary, rather than a denary, coding system. Every organism's genome is encoded using a quartet of chemical bases - adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine, generally referred to by their initial letters, A, C, G and T - in a DNA sequence that can be millions of letters long. In theory, it would only be necessary to sample 15 of those letters to create one billion unique codes.
In practice, however, the characteristics of DNA mean that 15 letters are not enough. Unlike the arbitrary numbers of a universal product code, the letters of DNA are not random, because they code for something that has a biological meaning. So the researchers estimate that a 45-letter signature would be required. As luck would have it, determining the sequence of several hundred letters now costs no more than sequencing a few dozen. As a result, the researchers are confident that it will be possible to capture enough information to distinguish tens of millions of species, using existing technology.
But where is the best place to find a universal product code for organisms? Not within the genome inside the nucleus of living cells, surprisingly. Instead, the researchers suggest targeting the smaller genome found inside cellular components called mitochondria. Such mitochondrial DNA has several features that make it suitable for use as a genetic barcode. It is generally passed unchanged from parent to offspring, unlike nuclear DNA in which maternal and paternal contributions are mixed and shuffled with each generation. It is also relatively free of long "non-coding" regions (sometimes called "junk DNA") that can cause confusion when comparing DNA sequences.
Within mitochondrial DNA, the researchers believe there are a number of possible genes that might be suitable for use as a biological universal product code. However, one gene in particular has caught their attention. It is called cytochrome c oxidase I, and it plays a key role in cellular energy production. It is easy to isolate. Variations in its genetic sequence should work as a unique code to enable different species to be distinguished. Better still, comparison of different organisms' unique codes should help to show how different species are related, and how and when new species evolved.
Until a few years ago it was an immense task to get a useful DNA sequence from a specimen. Today it is possible to find, cut and copy sequences so fast that you can go from the leg of a beetle to a mitochondrial DNA sequence in only a few hours. This will only improve in future with further automation; the use of dedicated DNA-chip arrays would speed things up even more. Assuming that a system akin to the universal product code can be devised and agreed upon, Dr Hebert says it should be possible to compile a complete inventory of known organisms and their corresponding codes within 20 years.
This would revolutionise taxonomy, which began 250 years ago with Linnaeus and has so far managed to categorise only 10% of the earth's estimated 10m-15m species. As well as providing a short cut to the taxonomic finishing line, an inventory of genetic barcodes would dramatically simplify and speed up the process of identifying organisms from small samples. Ultimately any person, with only an afternoon's training, would be able to identify an organism from just a small fragment. The ability to read nature's barcodes could have as much of an impact in the laboratory as man-made barcodes have already had in the shops.

On species inflation:

Species inflation
Hail Linnaeus
May 17th 2007
From The Economist print edition

Conservationists—and polar bears—should heed the lessons of economics

Jasper Bernes said...

Hey Brook,

Yeah, I miss you too. As do Anna and Noah. I'm going to try and call a little later today. Thanks for the article. There's nothing, it seems, that The Economist won't render analogous to the market.