So, I like to imagine that people are reading this blog, that they are intrigued by its content, and it’s got them wondering, “Why is this blog called ‘Lost in Transcription’?” As I noted in the pilot, the aim here is to talk about poetry and science, particularly those parts of science that are related to my own research, where I can claim some degree of expertise. The title is meant to bridge between these two worlds.
First, in the literary domain, it is a play off of the phrase “lost in translation,” which appears any time there is a discussion of either literature, of cultural differences, or of Scarlett Johansson that goes on for longer than ten minutes. Within poetry, its two most famous appearances are as the title of a James Merrill poem (perhaps the best poem ever written about working a jigsaw puzzle), and in a quotation attributed to Robert Frost, that “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”
Within genetics, translation refers to the process by which an RNA sequence is read to generate an amino acid sequence. In a related process called transcription, DNA serves as a template for the synthesis of RNA. One of the topics that I work on is genomic imprinting, where one of the two gene copies in a cell has its transcription silenced. So, in a strictly literal sense, a better title would have been something like “loss of transcription,” but if you are willing to stretch with me, we could imagine that at a genetic locus that is subject to genomic imprinting, the genetic information from one of your two parents is Lost in Transcription.