“Why are there no pop hits about Arabidopsis?” sings Karmadillo. Even though their Arabidopsis song is not a pop hit (yet?) either, Karmadillo can at least lay claim to the honour of having performed it alongside other science-themed songs on the “Reproductive Stage” at the virtual 2010 Geek Pop festival.
The song celebrates Arabidopsis as model organism, with such lines as: “That the public don’t know you, that’s unfair, but they can get your genome, thanks to TAIR.” The music video also has plenty of lab footage showing Arabidopsis in action:
Rishi Nag, the main man behind Karmadillo, lives and works in Cambridge, so I managed to catch up with him this summer and ask him about the song and how he came about writing it.
Rishi, my first question is maybe a bit obvious, but why are there no pop hits about Arabidopsis?
I think it just never hit the romantic side that roses have. The song that I wrote was meant to be about this plucky little plant that a lot of biology work is being done on.
Why did you write the song?
I work in the Department of Plant Sciences [at Cambridge University] and we had a Christmas revue at the end of the year, where people from various departments were getting together do all kinds of songs. I had the idea to write the song for that, but didn’t get it done in time. Then there was this festival called Geek Pop at the start of the year, and I had some time off over Christmas so I managed to sit down and record it. Having a deadline to submit it for Geek Pop was quite a motivating factor to finish it. [Before that] I think I just had the chorus stuck in my head for a while.
How have people responded to it?
Oh, it’s been really popular, so that’s been really nice. I wrote another song called “Brownian Motion” which is more of a physics song, which I think has been my most popular of the Geek Pop songs, I’m afraid.
How did you get interested in science?
I work in the group run by David Baulcombe, [and] I’m actually a bioinformatician/web designer. Essentially my background was nothing to do with biology, and then a couple of years ago I started doing the website for a pan-European EU-funded project called SIROCCO, dealing with [RNA] silencing in various institutions. Through that I’ve started learning more about bioinformatics, and taking on a bigger role in that. It’s been really interesting and exciting for me. I have a background as a DSP (digital signal processing) software engineer. That’s quite dead scientifically in that what you’re doing commercially is as good as it will get for the most part. Then to come into bioinformatics and learn about genetics and genes just really whetted my appetite again for science and its processes.