I follow an erudite blog posted by a graduate student in zoology that mixes good science in plain language with great photos and quirky amusement.
Recently she posted about a poetical form unknown to me, the double dactyl. I got hooked trying to make one up for myself. I followed her lead, writing verse about science.
Reading this, you should be aware that three lines are each constructed of a pair of triple rhythms like “higglety pigglety” whereas the fourth line stops on the fourth, stressed, syllable. A sign of poetic failure is probably having to italicise the stressed words:
Epstein-Barr virus was
Found in a cell line that
Came from a cancer that
Grows in the jaw.
Intell’gent surgeon that
Spotted conundrum that
Chronic Plasmodium makes
Virus do more.
This relates to discoveries in the 1950s when Denis Burkitt, missionary surgeon in Uganda, biopsied the continent, probing the geographical limits of the previously unknown lymphoma that now bears his name. His prepared mind worked out that this cancer must be associated with a virus spread by an insect vector, ideas that led to Tony Epstein finding his eponymous virus within a cell line from a Burkitt’s lymphoma. Confusingly, it was then shown that the virus is ubiquitous among humans and spread in our saliva not by insects at all. Others showed that Burkitt’s lymphoma is driven by the coincidence of children acquiring Epstein Barr virus very early in life plus suffering repeated bouts of falciparum malaria (Plasmodium falciparum is of course spread by mosquitoes and wreaks enormous injury on exposed populations). So Burkitt did not fit the final pieces together but it was his enquiring mind and observation in the field that founded areas of science that have been enormously productive in understanding cancer.
Just before I started my own doctoral work in this field, I had the chance to visit Uganda. I was not painting then. Later, when I was just starting to use watercolour, I had no reference photo to remind me. Thus my painting carries my memories of where I was first based, on the shore of Lake Victoria, but I copied someone else’s composition – from a book or the net I cannot remember. From Entebbe, I flew to the West Nile (where Burkitt had made his observations some 30 years earlier) in a tiny plane through vast confectionary clouds, piloted by a slightly mad guy with a Biggles moustache. The hospital was on the Congo border by virgin jungle filled with the whoops of apes.