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The Volvox Condominium

volvox-condominium-webA single cell floats through an endless ocean, its identity, firmly lodged in the center of its cytoplasm—its nucleus. There is no confusion. From time to time the cell divides, leaving progeny to float off according to the ocean’s currents, never to be known and seldom to be encountered again by the parent cell. The offspring are usually perfect duplicates of the original with only occasional tiny differences. But in the ocean of lime, one of those mutative differences results in a unique cell which divides its nucleus to release its progeny into the world, but never quite lets go. The offspring remains tenaciously attached to its twin and partner. read more

The Humpty-Dumpty Phenomenon

humpty-dumpty-webGhengis Khan loved cheetahs.

No, not graffiti on some Shanghai bathroom wall. The emperor of all Russia, China and Persia was a collector of symbols of power, and the great Khan had a particular passion for the cheetah, the world’s fastest feline. The conqueror from Marco Polo’s tales actually went so far as to mobilize all his horses and his men, sending them out to collect every cheetah they could find in Southwest Asia.

They were actually quite successful, bringing a significant fraction of the population of cheetah to Ghengis Kahn’s compound in China. One thing however that Ghengis never achieved was to convince his cheetah to breed in captivity. Following lives in which the high points were probably the mauling of a few Christians, the thousands of cheetah in the Kahn entourage died. Their genetic heritage remained unpacked baggage on some molecular way-station in the Far East. read more

Brother’s Keeper?

chimp-brothers-keeper-webThe keeper of the chimpanzee cage was a well-read man of culture who fancied himself a zoologist and humanitarian more than a mere animal custodian. He often found himself staring for long moments into the cage of his ward, wondering whether in some primal jungle he might truly have shared an ancestor with this creature.

Zoos, however, are set up largely for the entertainment and edification of their human patrons; so in fact, the keeper’s duties were evenly divided between the front and rear ends of his charge. In the morning the keeper brought food for the chimp and in the afternoon, after the patrons had left, he cleaned dung from the cage floor. read more