Jennifer: This title caught my eye as I was walking past the office of Ormonde Waters, a research scientist at Murdoch University.
“Ode to an Ectopic Fungal Mutant” is yet another perfect example of science meeting art. Author Waters is a member of the Australian Centre for Necrotrophic Fungal Pathogens. ‘Necrotrophic’ describes fungal pathogens which kill their host and feed off the remains; visual imagery which can make for particularly tenebrous and confronting poetry. Synonymous with ‘necrotrophic’ is ‘perthotrophic’, rather fitting given the location of the ACNFP research group.
“Ode to an Ectopic Fungal Mutant” recounts Waters’ investigation of Stagonospora nodorum, the major fungal pathogen of wheat in Western Australia. The poem narrates his attempts to eliminate the pathogenic gene from the fungus. Readers (in particular fellow research scientists!) empathise with Waters as he ascertains that he did not obtain the desired result. He successfully conveys his disappointment in discovering that the aesthetically pleasing cell was not a homologous recombinant, as he had hoped, but an ectopic mutant. Waters draws the reader into the world of fungi through his use of technical discourse (I have included a glossary of such terms below). His reference to light serves to define the experimental conditions, as the ‘near-UV’ wavelength of light is known to induce sporulation. His use of the term ‘Stygian darkness’, a Greek metaphor for the absolute absence of light, instills a sense of foreboding in the reader.
Before I get carried away with my literary analysis, I’ll let you read the poem. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Ode To An Ectopic Fungal Mutant
By Ormonde Waters
The hyphae fair didst bloom upon my plate
Of medium minimal, yet enough to grow.
And with selective fungicides to ensure
Lest non-transformants would contaminate.
In Stygian darkness, but near-UV also
I nourished you and waited you to spoor.
A picture portrait I did make of you,
Your handsome colours did my eye delight
And I did hope that you might be the one!
An homologous recombinant mutant – Oh so true
On you an Honours chapter I would write
And you a thesis cover would become.
Alas! By PCR you proved ectopic
And now you moulder in a bin necrotic.
– Hyphae: filaments of fungal tissue – Medium minimal: ‘minimal medium’ refers to a medium containing only the essential nutrients required for fungus growth – Spoor: an obsolete version of ‘spore’ – Homologous recombinant: cell from which the pathogenic gene has been knocked out – PCR: polymerase chain reaction, which determines the homologous recombinants from the ectopics – Ectopic: describes cell which still contains the pathogenic gene after modification