Friday, September 28, 2007

DNA Tatoo

Carl Zimmer has been collecting biological tattoos. The latest is a DNA tattoo [Science Tattoo Friday: A Textbook On Your Back]. Here's what the victim fan has to say ...
"My tattoo is from an Irving Geis illustration of DNA. I was attracted to his attention to the molecular detail while also drawing in a representational spiral that doesn't ignore the basic beauty of the double helix. This particular sequence (I've BLASTED) is too short to be specific to only one gene, but one human gene it's found it is the 5' UTR of one of our tight junctions."-Matthew MacDougall, 4th year medical student
The figure is, indeed, a drawing by Irving Geis. It's based on a structure of the dodecamer CGCGAATTCGCG solved by Drew et al. (1981). You can download the PDB file yourself at 1BNA and look at it in your favorite structure viewer. Mine is RasMol. The DNA is in the typical B-DNA form first predicted by Watson & Crick.


Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA)
I've prepared two views of this structure (below) so you see how it compares to the Geis drawing. The drawing is in some textbooks, notably Voet & Voet Biochemistry 3rd ed. (p.1108). If you look closely, you will notice that Geis has taken a few "liberties" with his drawing. It's not quite the same as the actual molecular model but it's pretty close. I don't think our 4th year medical student has to worry about anyone noticing the difference, except for curmudgeonly biochemistry Professors!


  1. Hmmm...I may have to think of a scientific topic for my next tattoo! That one's pretty nifty.

  2. I don't care for tattoos, decorative body painting is what gets me hot. But you got to admire the tenacity of both the tattooer and the tattooé here.

  3. Irving Geis was a master of scientific illustration. One of his early works was with Darrell Huff: "How to lie with statistics". You can now get some of his illustrations as screensavers from the HHMI.

    I would love to find an art book that displayed his pictures and showed how he created the images.