Friday, July 16, 2010


79th Grandmother
of Indignant Chemist

(note: All large/small numbers are written in the exponential format
2,000 = 2 x 103 or 2xE3)

I have often wondered why I have an uncanny, often obsessive, attraction to all things ancient Egyptian, from my King Tut puzzle that I got at a souvenir shop stop on Pike's Peak to my excessive Christmas tree full of rare Polish hand blown glass Egyptian ornaments. I even have two of each one of these ornaments just in case one gets broken. My friends see my tree at Christmas and I can sense that they are probably asking themselves "why is he so obsessed with his Egyptian ornaments and not Santa, Rudolph, Sexy Angel, Lady Gaga , Hooters girls or Frosty?
Sexy Angel or rare Polonaise Egyptian ornaments, that is the question???

The answer could be as bizarre as my obsession. While traveling back in time 2,000 years on my family tree via, I suddenly came upon Cleopatra III, then II, and finally Cleopatra I, who was my 77th great grandmother (204 AD-176 AD). The pieces of the puzzle seemed somewhat complete! There is a theory, among parapsychologists that supports a model for genetic memory which is a transfer of biochemical storage of memory (like a computer chip) directly through one's DNA from generation to generation. Could this be happening to me after 2,000 years - a mere blink in time?

The question arises - just how much genetic material do I have now that was in Cleopatra's original DNA strands? My best estimate is 3.8 million molecules and therefore around 53 million original atoms based on the fact that the human genome (chromosomes) contains slightly more than 3 billion base pairs of molecules of (cytosine-guanine) and (uracil-thymine) in nearly infinite sequences which determines our unique genetic identity and carries our genetic code for all our characteristics and traits, both good and bad!

A helical DNA strand made up of the 4 base pairs and the Phosphate - deoxyribose sugar backbone. The base pairs, rungs in the ladder, are held in place by weak hydrogen bonds that unzip during replication/cell division (mitosis).

Meiosis is a process of reductional division in which the number of chromosomes per cell is cut in half to form reproductive cells. In animals, meiosis always results in the formation of sperm and eggs. As with mitosis, before meiosis begins, the DNA in the original cell is replicated . Two cell divisions separate the replicated chromosomes into four haploid gametes, either sperm or eggs.
During meiosis in ovaries/testicles, the genome of a diploid germ cell, which is composed of long segments of DNA packaged into chromosomes, undergoes DNA replication followed by two rounds of division, resulting in four haploid gamete cells. Each of these cells contains one complete set of chromosomes, or half of the genetic content of the original cell. If meiosis produces gametes, these cells must fuse during fertilization to create a new diploid cell, or zygote before any new growth can occur. Thus, the division mechanism of meiosis is a reciprocal process to the joining of two genomes that occurs at fertilization. Because the chromosomes of each parent undergo recombination during meiosis, each gamete, and thus each zygote, will have a unique genetic blueprint encoded in its DNA. Together, meiosis and fertilization constitute sexual reproduction in animals, and generate genetically distinct individuals in populations.

The human genome is the genome of Homo Sapiens, which is stored on 23 chromosome pairs. Twenty-two of these are autosomal chromosome pairs, while the remaining pair is sex-determining X and Y. The diploid (body cell) human genome contains a total of just over 3 billion DNA base pairs, but after meiosis, the haploid genome in gametes contains only 1.5 billion base pairs. The Human Genome Project (HGP) produced a reference sequence of the euchromatic human genome, which is used worldwide in biomedical sciences.
The 23 chromosomal pairs containing the human genome, our genetic footprint for all our traits.

The 23 chromosomal pairs containing the human genome, our genetic footprint for all our traits and characteristics.
Starting with 1.5 billion base pairs per gamete (sperm/egg), the haploid genome, (1/2 of the original chromosomal pair), then recombines during fertilization with the haploid genome from the other parent to restore the diploid 23 pairs of chromosomes .

Passage of Cleopatra's original base pairs through 79 meioses and recombinations adds a certain amount of error and disorder (entropy) creating genetic defects. The approximate numbers of her actual genes transferred through 79 recombinations is impossible to determine, but an approximate calculation was done. Assuming that one-half of the base pairs are transferred during fertilization and recombined with a new set of base pairs from the other parent, it is only possible to reach an approximate answer.

The total number of strands/macromolecules of DNA in the human body, 10E13 , or ten trillion contain very few molecules of the original DNA in each nucleus of every cell in our bodies from of all our ancestors, more in recent ones The number varies with body size and would be a relatively small number , but in atomic terms it can be large.
By the way, ten trillion is one trillion less than dollars of our national debt...a scary situation!

Therefore: After 79 meioses and recombinations
(1.5E9 base pairs in Cleopatras egg/ 79 meioses&recombinations) x 2 molecules/pair =
3.8E6 base molecules

Therefore the number of atoms retained from Cleopatra would roughly be:
3.8E6 base molecules x (14 atoms (average*)/base molecule) =
53 million C, N, O, H atoms

*The average number, 14 atoms/molecule is based on the molecular formulas of the four bases
C4H5N3O ( 13 in cytosine), C5H6N2O2 (15 in thymine), C4H4N2O2 (12 in uracil) and C5H5N5O ( 16 in guanine)

53.2 million atoms is not a huge number of atoms. By comparison, 7.5 trillion carbon atoms will fit on a single period (.) with a diameter of 0.5 mm, on the paper I am printing this on.
See the link for an interesting calculation:

and this is hard to believe! 7.5 trillion of them in one layer on a period (0.5mm wide) on this paper??

Detailed images of carbon atoms showing the s and p electron clouds predicted by Quantum Mechanics over 60 years ago. All my ex Chemistry students used to ask me - How do you know they actually exist and look like that? Now I can say - an actual digital image is worth a thousand words!

Keep in mind how small the carbon atoms are @ 0.17 nanometer diameter
where 1 nanometer = 10-9 meter or 1 billionth of a meter. Therefore:
(0.17 nanometer/atom) x (1meter/1E9 nanometer) x (1 meter/1E3 mm)
= 1.7 E-7 mm = 1.7 ten millionths of a mm

or 170 billionths of a millimeter
and they are only 1 atom thick on a period - and this is hard to believe -
7.5 trillion of them in one layer on a period of the paper??
Amazing but true!!

For the sake of simplicity let's assume all the 53 million ( 2 sig figs)
or so atoms from Cleopatra are carbon, what would they weigh?
(the atomic masses of carbon @12 amu, O @ 16 amu, N@ 14 amu and H@ amu have an average mass close to C @12 atomic mass units = actually 11 amu to 2 significant figures, but the error is trivial.)
Assuming they are all carbon atoms, a pure tiny invisible dot of carbon atoms would weigh
53 x 10E6 atoms C x (12 g C (atomic mass per mole)/ 6.02 x 10E23 atoms per mole) =1.1 x 10E-15 grams C = 1.1 femtograms C atoms

note: a mole is the chemist's dozen, Avogadro's number, or 6.02E23 particles per mole, the number of atoms/particles contained in the atomic mass of an element or compound.

A femtogram, 1E-15 gram, is one of the smallest unit of mass in the metric system but that may change. The smallest when I was in High School was the microgram, 1E-6 gram. There is a realm of research now at the picogram level, picotechnology, so the next is femtotechnology!

1.1 femtograms of carbon visualized as a tiny black Egyptian Onyx spherical crystal . It would be invisible because the limit of naked eye visibility of atoms is about 10E12 , a trillion atoms or 1\7 th of the carbon atoms in a 12 point font period (.)
Now, the final question is:

Was there enough atoms to transfer genetic memory from Cleopatra to me? Engineers are now making nano and picogram designed sized working computer chips with bytes of memory and even atomic chips with bytes of memory - so, yes, I believe it may be possible!
They are even working on neuron, molecular and yes, even atomic memory size memory systems, so it is entirely feasible memory could be retained in a molecule or macromolecule!

Since there are roughly 53 million atoms and electrons in my body that were once part of Cleopatra's genome, then I can assume that some bytes of information have been passed as genetic memory in the molecules, atoms and electrons in those atoms. They could have been stored and transferred as electronic patterns that make up my memory in special neurons in my the brain much like the ones and zeros make the digital patterns that are stored and transferred as digital data/memory on chips.

THE ENTROPY FACTOR: The 3 billion base pairs of the haploid human genome correspond to about 750 megabytes of data, since every base pair can be coded by 2 bits. The entropy rate (acquired disorder) of the genome differs significantly between coding and non-coding sequences. It is close to the maximum of 2 bits per base pair for the coding sequences (about 45 million base pairs), but less for the non-coding parts. It ranges between 1.5 and 1.9 bits per base pair for the individual chromosome, except for the Y chromosome, which has an entropy rate below 0.9 bits per base pair. The entropy rate is low in each base pair, so much of the original memory trace could stay intact, assuming it would act like a computer memory chip and retain the electrical patterns of memory traces. Quantum entropy errors occur in computer chips occur when electrons are ejected spontaneously and create unexplained glitches in data, but occurs routinely in all matter and causes mutations in DNA over millions of years - after only 2,000 years, it should not be a factor in disruption of any memory traces.

Every time I take a breath of air or a drink of water or eat anything, I take in a few water molecules of everyone who has lived from Einstein to Jesus to Cleopatra, so a few have been added and subtracted in as we breathe, eat and excrete water and waste every day. But, according to statistical laws, we retain a few atoms throughout our life incorporated into our cells/protoplasm. The numbers must be vanishingly small, but still they must exist!
I do have a fascination for life among the pyramids and a certain fascination with the life and times of Cleopatra and her romance with Mark Antony. ( My wife, Myra, thinks I've been watching too many episodes of the Tudors and Rome) I was totally absorbed in the series on HBO, Rome, a few years ago and some things seemed very familiar to me in the story. Also, the very first time I went to Rome and other European cities I could walk down certain old streets and know I had been there before and never get lost for hours and always find my way back - different from Deja Vu - I attribute it to genetic memory!

I have no attraction to the character of Mark Antony, but was rather strangely attracted to Cleopatra in the episodes of Rome and Liz Taylor's character in the movie Cleopatra, but then all the 21 year-old young men had a special fantasy about Liz Taylor in 1963, mine was probably a little more real than most (now I think I understand why)! I suppose it's acceptable to have a fantasy about your 78th Grandmother that far removed since it doesn't involve a cast of many (a Roman orgy) including Mark Antony!
My final question would be :

Who was the Daddy???

Mark Antony,the Pharoah or the pool boy? Back then, royals were never sure because their entertainment was their courtesans/lovers, no TV and no DNA testing!

Hopefully, she wasn't as bad as historians have depicted her!

CLEOPATRA, the movie, 1963
And finally, I'm sure my Mom and Dad, and my girlfriend ,1963, were quite happy my fantasy was about Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) and not Mark Anthony (Richard Burton)!

Myra, my wife, certainly is!

Thanks, Myra for typing this essay/thesis as well as typing my graduate school thesis and dissertation .
I dedicate this to you Myra, my Egyptian princess in this lifetime!
(Myra is a very old middle eastern name originating from Myra, an ancient town in Turkey where the original Saint Nickolas was from)

Lawrence Puckett, 7/14/2010

1 comment:

  1. This is fascinating. You've answered questions I've always had about the role genetics plays in our lives. I like the way you continue to teach but relate the subject to something that we are all inherently curious about. Cleopatra indeed!