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a rat: curious


PNAS Cover: Earth BioGenome Project


Alex — Internet's Most Popular Rat

Poster Rat for Rat Genome Sequencing

The rat genome sequencing project at the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Centre is complete. The genome has been analyzed and published.

I'd like to introduce you one of the faces of the project: Alex, the genomics rat idol.

Arguably, Alex is the most popular rat on the internet. For the justification of this strong statement, read on.

rat (Rattus norvegicus) on genome sequencer - alex on an abi 3700 / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex, the rat. Rattus norvegicus on an ABI 3700 genome sequencer. (zoom)
rat (rattus norvegicus) on genome sequencer - alex on an abi 3700 / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex, the rat. Rattus norvegicus on an ABI 3700 genome sequencer. (zoom)

Alex's Biography

Alex was born in May 2000. It's well known that a rat's cuteness reaches maximum at about 3-4 weeks. After this critical time, a pet store rat is less likely to be purchased and may be asked to act as snake food. In Alex's case, she was perilously close to her deadline. Luckily for her, we paid a ransom of $6.99 to the Noah's Ark pet shop in Vancouver. She was on her last cute leg.

Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). Here, she is seen in a forced portrait position (zoom)

From May 2000 Alex spent most of her time hoarding food pellets and riding on shoulders.

Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). Riding on shoulder. / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). Riding on shoulder.

Alex liked to bite. And rats only bite hard — they don't nibble. Her contention for this unattractive behaviour was the uncanny similarity between a finger and a pellet of food.

Other than unpredictable bouts of biting (by far the most exciting aspect of her personality), Alex lacked other distinguishing characteristics.

Alex died of a seizure in late 2002. She was buried outside of the Museum of Anthropology. A ratty pair of underwear served as a burial shroud.

And I hope you got that last pun.

DOWNLOAD ALL PHOTOS.

Photos are for public use. Use, modification and distribution of these photos is unrestricted.

Alex's Popularity

Despite my best efforts at meaningful work, this web page continues to be the most popular of all my online offerings, making for a somewhat embarrassing achievement.

Alex's images consistently show up first in Google's web search for 'rat', 'rat image' and image search for 'rat'.

Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex image is the first for Google's 'rat' search query (retrieved 16 Mar 2013). (rat Google search)
Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex image is the first for Google's 'rat image' search query (retrieved 16 Mar 2013). (rat Google search)

Finally, Alex appears as the first entry in Google images for 'rat'.

Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex image is the first for Google's 'rat image' search query (retrieved 16 Mar 2013). (rat Google search)

Alex's Public Appearances

Alex is neither without modesty nor public fame. Her first cover-ratgirl appearance was on the April 2004 issue of Genome Research.

Rat Issue of Genome Research, April 2004 / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex the rat appeared on the cover of Genome Research (April 2004). (zoom)

More recently, she's appeared on the cover of Ethnologie Francaise (Jan-Mar 2009 issue).

Alex the rat on the cover of Ethnologie Francaise (1/2009) / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex the rat appeared on the cover of Ethnologie Francaise (1/2009). (zoom)

The topic of the issue was the relationship between animals and humans. It is fitting therefore to recount here the relationship I shared with Alex during her sojourn with us.

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news + thoughts

Cancer Cell cover

Sat 23-04-2022

My cover design on the 11 April 2022 Cancer Cell issue depicts depicts cellular heterogeneity as a kaleidoscope generated from immunofluorescence staining of the glial and neuronal markers MBP and NeuN (respectively) in a GBM patient-derived explant.

LeBlanc VG et al. Single-cell landscapes of primary glioblastomas and matched explants and cell lines show variable retention of inter- and intratumor heterogeneity (2022) Cancer Cell 40:379–392.E9.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
My Cancer Cell kaleidoscope cover (volume 40, issue 4, 11 April 2022). (more)

Browse my gallery of cover designs.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
A catalogue of my journal and magazine cover designs. (more)

Nature Biotechnology cover

Sat 23-04-2022

My cover design on the 4 April 2022 Nature Biotechnology issue is an impression of a phylogenetic tree of over 200 million sequences.

Konno N et al. Deep distributed computing to reconstruct extremely large lineage trees (2022) Nature Biotechnology 40:566–575.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
My Nature Biotechnology phylogenetic tree cover (volume 40, issue 4, 4 April 2022). (more)

Browse my gallery of cover designs.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
A catalogue of my journal and magazine cover designs. (more)

Nature cover — Gene Genie

Sat 23-04-2022

My cover design on the 17 March 2022 Nature issue depicts the evolutionary properties of sequences at the extremes of the evolvability spectrum.

Vaishnav ED et al. The evolution, evolvability and engineering of gene regulatory DNA (2022) Nature 603:455–463.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
My Nature squiggles cover (volume 603, issue 7901, 17 March 2022). (more)

Browse my gallery of cover designs.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
A catalogue of my journal and magazine cover designs. (more)