The DNA sequence that provides the bulk of the text for Agrippa is the genomic sequence for the bicoid maternal morphogen. Bicoid is a maternal effect gene in the Drosophila fly. It is a “transcription factor” that turns on or off the expression of other genes related to the anterior of the fly; and it affects embryonic cell growth of that anterior portion through diffusion as a “morphogen” whose local concentration level around a cell is a developmental signal. For more information on bicoid, see P.Z. Myers, “Transcription Factors and Morphogens,” Paryngula.org, 25 May 2004; and Alex Spirov, “Drosophila / Verterbrate Genes in Development: Bicoid,” Homeobox Genes Database.”
The bicoid genomic sequence was provided to the typesetter of Agrippa as shown on the printer’s copy (see facsimile images). Publisher Kevin Begos recalls,
The Rockefeller University is at 1230 York Ave. in New York, a few blocks from where my office was (1411 York). One of Frank Stella’s sons was working there in the early 90s, and Ashbaugh and I went over and visited him. I can’t remember his first name, but he provided the code. I believe it’s from a Drosophila fruit fly. . . .
Those two pages of type were the whole sequence that was given to me, but that’s not the same as saying it is the whole sequence of an organism. . . . A brief search suggests that this very popular research creature wasn’t completely sequenced until 2000 or 2001.
My memory is that the typesetters found it extremely difficult to keep track of where they were on the pages, even though it was a fairly short job. They found it easier to accurately set the copy in short batches, and marked each place they stopped. There turned out to be not nearly enough type to fill the 30-40 odd pages of the book, so the sequence was repeated. I think it was the printer who set up the first page at a different point than when the sequence started. In any case, that was fine by me. The intent was never to reproduce a specific sequence in type or images. The intent was to create a unique and beautiful book–a genetic creation of our own, not a reproduction.