This view of life

Over my “vacation” (which unfortunately ended up being more work than play), I was at a dinner with two of my best friends from the past 15-odd years. For whatever reason, the topic turned to evolution–and we quickly realized that we had, erm, differing opinions on whether evolution actually occurred or not. Now, this was pretty depressing to me, as both of them are very intelligent women, and one happens to work in a scientific field. So, we retreated to a coffee shop for some animated conversation on science, religion, and politics. I don’t know if I changed any minds or not, but that wasn’t really my goal anyway–rather, just to talk about the evidence that supported evolution, and to discuss their own reservations and objections. Obviously there were only so many things we could cover, but it was an interesting chat (and I hope I wasn’t too harsh. It’s a topic that makes me a bit…excitable.)

Anyhoo, I wish I’d had this op-ed on me. Written by evolutionary biolgist Olivia Judson, it highlights just a few things that make evolution so amazing:

Organisms like the sea slug Elysia chlorotica. This animal not only looks like a leaf, but it also acts like one, making energy from the sun. Its secret? When it eats algae, it extracts the chloroplasts, the tiny entities that plants and algae use to manufacture energy from sunlight, and shunts them into special cells beneath its skin. The chloroplasts continue to function; the slug thus becomes able to live on a diet composed only of sunbeams.

Still more fabulous is the bacterium Brocadia anammoxidans. It blithely makes a substance that to most organisms is a lethal poison - namely, hydrazine. That’s rocket fuel.

And then there’s the wasp Cotesia congregata. She injects her eggs into the bodies of caterpillars. As she does so, she also injects a virus that disables the caterpillar’s immune system and prevents it from attacking the eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the caterpillar alive.

It’s hard not to have an insatiable interest in organisms like these, to be enthralled by the strangeness, the complexity, the breathtaking variety of nature.

(Continue reading at at Aetiology)