Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Biology only matters if life does....

I suppose it's a bit much to ask students to ponder their closeness to plants in a culture where human tribes can barely recognize their similarities with other tribes. Things have broken down.

But I am going to ask you, gentle reader.
  • We share the same genetic code--we can make their stuff, they can make ours.
  • We both reproduce sexually in a spectacular dance of the chromosomes, mixing us up every generation, so that even the perfect among us are so for only a generation.
  • We both rely on ribosomes to build our proteins, microtubules and mitochondria to get us through the day, and an innate will to do whatever we need to see the next sunrise.
Humans and basil share a common ancestor. We share a quarter of the same genes. Many of our proteins do exactly the same thing, others not so much.

But we're pretty damn close at the most basic levels of life. Which is pretty cool.

We're even closer to insects--heck, we're both even animals! We share about 60% of our core genes with fruit flies. 

If something effectively kills plants or insects, and you see no connections between plants and insects and humans, then you likely do not contemplate the tons and tons and tons of herbicides and pesticides poured on our food in our "war" against weeds and weevils.

If you don't contemplate about food or water or folks in your neighborhood, it's unlikely you contemplate much about anything that matters.

Hey, what's on TV tonight?


Susan Eckert said...

Every morning as I'm getting ready to face the teenagers, my cat sits beside me on the bathroom sink. He gazes at me with those beautiful cat eyes, slowly blinking because he doesn't see me as a threat. He sees me as some being that will turn the water faucet on for him. (And I do.) And I return his gaze with a smile and think, "Hello distant cousin."

I love biology because for me, it changed how I see the world and it elicits a strong feeling of connectedness and wonder. It's worth learning (and teaching) for that feeling alone. I still look at a tree and think, "Holy shit, we share a common ancestor." I'm sure I'll think the same thing until the day I die.

If a student looks at a plant with a different perspective and reflects just a little on the fact that this organism shares the same genetic code as us yet throws electrons around like ping pong balls (that end up in our food), then I think my job is so very worthwhile.

Wonderful post, Michael. Here's to basil and a Happy New Year!

doyle said...

Dear Susan,

Thanks for the warm words, and Happy New Year to you and yours!