Cellular Archaeology

Article excerpt

Fashioning a chart with scissors and paste, the laboratory technician matches identical pairs of chromosomes in alphabetical and numerical size places. This artificial arrangement of "colored bodies," reminiscent of paper dolls, is known as a karyotype. Congruent with an ideogram or a shorthand language, this synthetic arrangement behaves like a museum display, encoding a morphology of signs. A cellular archaeologist, the laboratory investigator correlates subtle differences in identity among specimens. Differences, for example, between a fish, a flower, or a bacteria can be discerned by looking at linear configurations of an organism's abstract sequence. As arrangements of sets, chromosomes form categories by which types of life are catalogued. Through a system of reduction, the organism's mathematical formula is translated from an invisible understructure of living matter to a visual notation. As with the Cubists, the sign becomes an abbreviated blueprint of cultural code summarizing the materialization of idea into visual form. In contrast, biological signs employ an assembly of life fractions to form the basis of their scientific symbols. Defining an organism from a collection of fragments creates a fabricated condition comparable to metonomy and museum display. …