“now, what the hell is a chromosome again?”

“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”
– Aristotle


The post title is a line I pull from page 8 of My Heart Can’t Even Believe It, A Story of Science Love and Down Syndrome,  Amy Silverman’s recently published book.  I appreciate the inquisitive and amusing attitude throughout the book. It’s honest.

IMG_9219When I talk with her about my interest in drawing Sophie, her daughter, I explain I want the work to serve as education. First I have to educate myself and in the process (mustering up all the elements of design I can) maybe I educate you. I should say the only confidence I feel on this day, is in my drawing skills. About the study of living organisms – I’m no expert and it appears to get more complicated as I go. (Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy comes to mind…I’m an artist, not a scientist!)

Some conclusions I’ve drawn:  I know more about balance when I look at an imbalance, I recognize the typical when I try to understand the atypical, and I look for order when I observe disorder. And I really dislike labels.

Genetic order – Genetic disorder

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Sophie’s Karyotype

Here is a copy of Sophie’s Karyotype ↑. Doesn’t it resembles a beautiful ancient alphabet? Trisomy 21 is a genetic disorder, describing three chromosome twenty-one’s instead of the usual two. Note Sophie’s ↑ are numbered and twenty-one is high-lighted.

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My drawing of Sophie’s karyotype (not numbered / not highlighted)

A Karyotype is a picture of genetic arrangement. It represents an individual’s complete set of chromosomes. Twenty-three inherited from each parent pair to set up a typical forty-six (total). Chromosomes are found in the nucleus of every cell in the body (except in the egg and sperm). Again, in Sophie’s case there are forty-seven chromosomes (3 twenty-one’s).

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Here is my version of a Sophie ↑ cell. All the regular parts are visible: the cell membrane dances the edge of the cell itself, mitochondria (red and package-like), golgi (bubbly and bright blue), endoplasmic reticulum (labyrinth-like green with red dots) and the larger round form to the right, enveloped in its own membrane, is the nucleus (the control center).  This entire structure is what we understand as the basic unit of life. I’ve detailed several large-scale cells and believe me – based on what I understand now – I will approach the next cell I map differently.

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Sophie’s chromosomes in the nucleus of a cell. I carefully place in the first ten.

I fill the nucleus with Sophie’s 47 Chromosomes. Remember, the nucleus is the control center.  It governs the work performed by the cell including growth, repair and reproduction.

Sophie has
forty-seven (one too many)…
chromosomes…
in every nucleus…
in every cell…
in her body.
Like a meditation I let it sink in.

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Nucleus complete with all 47 chromosomes set in.

Chromosomes, long strands of deoxyribonucleic acid, hold unique genetic information (think blueprint). DNA, the complex molecule shaped like a spiraling ladder, holds many (many) genes. There are thousands of genes within each nucleus. Genes act as code that direct and maintain the entire body. Every cell in our body holds the same code but uses it differently depending on the cell.

I wonder about all of this as I detail 3 chromosomes and direct the DNA (in the composition).

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I love drawing DNA. You’ll find the double helix spirals moving across all my anatomy study of the last few years. Somewhere I read that genes express (produce). I understand the word express in the context of art. Naturally I wonder about Trisomy 21, do the extra set of genes leads to over expression – over production? I don’t know.

So…what the hell is a chromosome?
Chromosomes are long strands of DNA. DNA, known as the code of life, houses for each one of us our unique genetic make-up.

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Sigh…this was hard to break down and understand enough so I can write about it.
#NotKidding.


A highlight : The Willamette Week, an alt-weekly in Portland Oregon, ran my profile drawing of Sophie on their cover.

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a colored body

Chromosome – from the Greek, chroma is color and soma is body. A colored body!! I’ve wanted to draw a chromosome for some time. This one is my first, it won’t be my last.

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Chromosome

Chromosomes are tiny, thread like structures located inside cells (in the nucleus) made from DNA, RNA and protein. The stuff inside your chromosomes (that DNA) instruct a cell in how to function and replicate. Every form of life has its own unique set of instructions. Your chromosomes determined your eye color, your height and whether you are a male or female. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46. Twenty-three come from mom, twenty-three come from dad. Oh – and a horse has 64 while a fruit fly has about 8. Plants have chromosomes too.

I understand some chromosomes are longer than others because they contain more DNA, Humans have about 30,000 genes in their 46 chromosomes.

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Telomere

See the yellow area at the end of each arm of the chromosome ↑, that’s a telomere. Telos is Greek for end,  and meros means part. They sort of keep the form from unravelling (like the plastic tip at the end of a shoelace). As we age, our telomeres become shorter. Naturally I wonder if we can grow our telomeres. One thing leads to another and before you know it I arrive at stem cells. And while I thought I understood what a stem cell was, I really didn’t. I won’t get into it now, but that stem cell research thing…incredible!
(go here for more → Doris Taylor – Stem Cells, Untold Stories)

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Stem cells

Ok, I need to stay focused but suffice it to say the beginnings of life are awesome. I don’t use that word lightly . One thing leads to another, and then another, and here You are and here I am.

I can’t help but believe if we could slow down and peek into the wonders of life each and every day (Could you? Would you? In any form you wish.) would this be a different world? It feels crazy out there but know, at your core, you are amazing!

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