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Photo: Whodunit?

Posted February 3, 1999

Photo: metal sculpture

This metal sculpture -- a campus enigma since it first appeared three years ago on its pedestal near Oxford Street -- just got a bit more mysterious.

On the morning of Jan. 21, Barker Hall employees arrived to find the popular sculpture lying on the ground in pieces -- leaving only its metal support pole. After lunch, the broken pieces and support pedestal had vanished, and later in the day were found hidden in the bushes.

One thing is certain: the sculpture is a scientifically correct image of a virus called bacteriophage T4 -- one of the most studied viruses in existence. The virus latches on to the Escherichia coli (aka E. coli) bacteria and injects its DNA into the cell, where the DNA produces 100 more viruses in its image. The bacteriophage then causes the cell to explode, creating an escape hatch for newly minted sister viruses. The whole process takes about 30 minutes.

Steven Finacom, who staffs the campus Outdoor Art Subcommittee and is familiar with virtually all campus structures, is stumped by this piece of "plop art."

"The sculpture is a mystery to the Outdoor Art Subcommittee...," Finacom told Berkeleyan shortly before its disappearance. "The campus is interested in increasing its art collection, but every item has to go through the proper process. 'Volunteer' sculptures are removed, at least until they undergo formal review," he warned.

When told last week of the sculpture's disappearance, the surprised Finacom said he hadn't yet ordered its removal. Tamara Keith caption. Jane Scherr photo.

If you have information on Barker Hall's bacteriophage, email


February 3 - 9, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 21)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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