Laura Stone (stoney321) wrote,
Laura Stone

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Happy Darwin Day! I'm evolving into a Phoenix today. What are you going to do?

Ahahaha. Seriously though, I'm super happy that today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, being a lover and student of the life sciences my whole life. He is the creator of modern biology and the various schools of thought that have sprung forth. Note: if you believe the earth was literally created in 6000 years and that man was made from a fistful of clay in God's hands, then we don't really have much to say to each other. You won't enjoy this post, in other words. :)

Some things that might be of interest to you: Darwin did NOT coin the phrase "survival of the fittest." That was something coined by some upper-class rapscallions that wanted to justify their behaviors. "We're rich because we deserve it due to our superior genes, blah blah." That concept is called "Social Darwinism" which is NOT a branch of science, nor is it anything to do ultimately with the studies Darwin wrote about. Add in the crap about races and women being genetically inferior, etc. to that social Darwinism branch and toss it out the window - it has nothing to do with the man. (And Darwin isn't Evolution, he just fathered the theory. Darwinism is revering the man, not a branch of the Life Sciences.)

Without Darwin being a punk-ass kid who lazed about in his backyard catching rats and noticing how different some looked from others, his wily teen years where he doodled pictures of different birds, and his intense adult years traveling around the world and ending up in the Galapagos, we wouldn't have Gregor Mendel and his amazing peas, which of course was the founding of genetics. Without Darwin we wouldn't have molecular biology, molecular chemistry, zoology, anthropology, on and on.

What's amazing about evolution is that it's not an unprovable theory. We have currently some single-celled organisms that have taken a bacteria that killed off a separate group of this organism, and have integrated it into their development. The bacteria now photosynthesize sunlight into food for the organism. We can see it! And guess what? That's how OUR bodies' cells developed mitochondria many eons ago. It's just amazing. We've figured out through the mapping genomes that the set of instructions in DNA for birds, fish, and humans to form limbs are IDENTICAL. There's an evolutionary development that created an additional step that tells the body to make arms, or fins, or wings. And an even finer-tuned set of instructions in fish to locate the fins laterally or in a dorsal placement. But it all came from the same source. Necessity and environment caused random changes that were favorable, and as a result, were the ones that stayed.

What's also amazing about Darwin is that he wrote a book on his own, without any backing, any foundation supporting him, a book that was so compelling that people all over the world read it. A scientific book, heavy on theory and terminology, and it was the DaVinci Code of its day. That is astounding! He clearly didn't know everything, but what scientist does? The mark of a genius is someone that recognizes a truth and is able to express that truth that not only makes sense to people, but paves the way for new truths to be found.

In my opinion, his discovery that we all came from a single source doesn't take away any specialness from the individual, it magnifies it. How unique that you didn't just come from some bored deity throwing clay around, but through the course of billions of years, of trial and error, of entire species trying to make a go of it and being wiped out while others thrived. You are here right now, reading this and understanding it. Breathing, walking, thinking. You, my friend, are the product of millions upon millions of years of work. Pretty cool stuff.

I remember my courses on genetics and the moment it hit me: it is AMAZING that we are here. I was looking at one of the first pictures of a complete strand of DNA in one of my textbooks, my professor was talking about the "police force" of proteins that travel up and down each and every link in the DNA chain, looking for mistakes. This chain, wrapped like an old fashioned phone cord, which was then wrapped again, then wrapped a third time, which is what forms a chromosome. This twisted, gnarled ball of yarn that would unzip thousands of times in various places never getting tangled, and it would do this hundreds of times a day in order to make muscle cells. To send out hormones to react to stimulus. To lengthen bone. To fight disease. To make new life. This microscopic wad of chemicals that developed and gives us our unique faces, fingerprints, our similar needs to bond and group together... And that's just humans, there are millions of other species that perform similar tasks.

I sat in class not paying attention to anything else in our lecture. After class my professor put her hand on my arm and asked if I was okay. I said, "It's amazing that we're here. And that we work." She beamed back at me and agreed. And it's not just amazing that we're here, but that we're all here, everything living on our planet, unique in some ways, but essentially kin down to our core. In case you haven't picked up on it, I love science.

I listened to a pediatric anthropologist speak yesterday (another profession courtesy of Mr. Darwin opening the doors) about ADHD and how that was a desirable trait back when we were hunter/gatherers. It was necessary to be easily distracted, you see. Someone being distracted by a rustling in the bushes would save everyone's lives. Now that our society has "evolved" into something beyond the basic needs for survival, it's now being considered an undesirable trait. How neat it would be to be able to see another 5000 years in the future and see what traits are preferred over others.

Oooh, last thing, and I'll clam up, I was reading an article on the platypus earlier, and how they've sequenced its complete DNA strand. The platypus has the "blueprints" for both amphibious and mammalian creatures, which was suspected. Meaning, scientists thought that SOME characteristics of both would be present, but not all characteristics. And it turns out ALL the characteristics are there, just that some are suppressed. Once the platypus lays an egg, the milk production proteins activate, something that isn't inherent in amphibious creatures. There's just a bunch of unused baggage hanging out in their DNA sequence, you see. But the COOLEST thing is how the platypus developed their venom gene. Freaking cool. How'd you like one of those sinking their spurs into you? Then laying an egg and slapping you upside the head with its beaver tail. Crazy.

[ETA] Because I just had my mind blown AGAIN. Tasmanian Devils, right? They're being wiped out by a disease? Turns out it's not a disease. IT'S CANCER. Cancer that evolved into a communicable disease. And if that doesn't get your jaw to drop, I don't know what will. My husband and I have long held a theory that cancer is caused by a virus, and that might just support that theory. MAN I LOVE SCIENCE!

I heard some half-wit on a talk radio program say that evolution is clearly not true because there aren't any half-man/half-ape walking around with a briefcase. What's awesome is that with that remark, he completely supported evolutionary theory. [do you catch how? *g*] And he showed that he has the kind of characteristics that should be knocked off our DNA.

In conclusion, help someone you know evolve today. Or you know, talk them into taking a hit for the team. Hahahaha. How fitting that I got this comment to the Twilight/Sparkle posts. "Also, almost none of these pictures are accurate." It's like she means this picture or this picture isn't 100% accurate, what??! Say it ain't so!! :D

[ETA to shut up some pedants] 1. The Origin of the Species was published in 1859. Gregor Mendel and his peas, heaven forbid I type a random stream of conscious post in anything but an academic-level manner, didn't finish COLLECTING DATA until 1863, and he didn't publish his findings until 1865. And he slipped into obscurity due to his status in the Catholic Church (and the Catholic Church's not wanting his research known) until almost 2 decades after his death, meaning 1900. So which came first? Darwin. Also? This was a squee post on a personal journal, not Scientific America, so PLEASE. Sit a few plays out, would ya? Can you tell that type of online behavior irritates the shit out of me?
Tags: essays, navel gazing, tales of stupid people
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