Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Lives of a Cell

I am midway through a highly engrossing, eyeopening read that I landed upon, on a recommendation that I am now greatly thankful for. (Thanks, Manoje.) I surfed through the book with a highlighter in my hand with the intention of sharing a few quotes and excerpts. I found myself layering practically every other line with a florescent pink. Lewis Thomas' book gave me precisely what I went to it for - inspiration. And now I am glad I threw those half baked bits into my TEDx talk. Ofcourse, somebody kindly pointed out that the wheel has long been invented.

Here are some of the best bits from the first few pages (stripped a bit of context, though). I gave up marking after that. -

"A good case can be made for our nonexistence as entities. We are not made up, as we had always supposed, of successively enriched packets of our own parts. We are shared, rented, occupied. At the interior of our cells, driving them, providing the oxidative energy that sends us out for the improvement of each shining day, are the mitochondria, and in a strict sense they are not ours... Without them, we would not move a muscle, drum a finger, think a thought... I like to think that they work in my interest, that each breath they draw for me, but perhaps it is they who walk through the local park in the early morning, sensing my senses, listening to my music, thinking my thoughts. I am consoled, somewhat, by the thought that the green plants are in the same fix. They could not be plants, or green, without their chloroplasts, which run the photosynthetic enterprise and generate oxygen for the rest of us. As it turns out, chloroplasts are also separate creatures with their own genomes, speaking their own language."

"Our genomes are catalogues of instructions from all kinds of sources in nature, filed for all kinds of contingencies."

"Theodor, in a series of elegant experiments, has shown that when two individuals of the same species are placed in close contact, the smaller of the two will always begin to disintegrate. It is auto-destruction due to lytic mechanisms entirely under the governance of the smaller partner. He is not thrown out, not outgamed, not outgunned; he simply chooses to bow out."

And this he tells us with a disclaimer that "we violate science when we try to read human meanings in their (the insects') arrangements"-

"It is hard for a bystander not to do so. Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungi, raise aphids as livestock, launch armies into wars, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, capture slaves. The families of weaver ants engage in child labor, holding their larvae like shuttles to spin out the thread that sews the leaves together for their fungus gardens. They exchange information ceaselessly. They do everything but watch television."

And this way of looking at ants was reminiscent of a really neat idea Pooja recently came up with... "Distant sources of food are somehow sensed, and long lines, like tentacles, reach out over the ground, up over walls, behind boulders, to fetch it in."

Then there's a lovely essay on pheromones that has instantly inspired a scifi/horror idea. :) Here's a sweet one from "A Fear of Pheromones" -

"It has been soberly calculated that if a single female moth were to release all the bombykol in her sac in a single spray, all at once, she could theoretically attract a trillion males in the instant. This is, of course, not done."

(The mention of the symbiotic relationship of sea crabs and sea anemones and the way the anemone finds its crab attaching itself to its host (very reminiscent to the wand finding its wizard) conjured a B-Movie image of a cheerleader with lethal pom-pons, permanently sewn into her hands.

Saw some really well made films - My Joy and Revanche... and some really crappy ones - Tron and The Tourist. (Btw, Ra.1 smells suspiciously similar to Tron Legacy, or is it just another half baked take on the Ghost in the Machine.? How can anything be worse than Tron: Legacy, I wonder! I guess the mention of RaOne will generate more traffic on this seldom visited blog. The visitors, thus attracted, will be as disappointed as the stall audiences of Hisss.)

And yeah, wishes of a happier new year to friends and family (there's now an app that searches and deletes all new year wishing messages from the phone).