Home > Charles Darwin, Dan Dennett, Evolution, Olivia Judson > Happy Birthday Mr Darwin!

Happy Birthday Mr Darwin!

It’s time to celebrate one of the most significant lives in our species. Charles Darwin’s remarkable theory permeates more of science every year expanding our perspective on life on this planet. In one of my favorite books looking at Darwin’s influence on science and our understand of ourselves, Dan Dennett best describes the theory as a “universal acid.”

In honor of his birthday, here’s a great recent column by Olivia Judson. Enjoy.
Each ciliate has something called a micronucleus; this contains two complete versions of its genome. During sex, the micronucleus divides in such a way that each individual keeps one version of its genome for itself; it then gives an exact copy of this version to its partner. Afterwards, each individual fuses the two genomes (the one it kept and the one it got) to make a new micronucleus.

This has three odd consequences. The first is that, by the end of sex, the two individuals have become genetically identical. It’s as if you and your mate began coitus as yourselves and finished as identical twins. The second odd consequence is that, partway through its life, a ciliate can radically alter its genetic make-up; genetically speaking, the transformation is so extreme that it’s as if you changed into one of your children. Talk about being reborn.
  1. February 13, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Olivia is a former colleague of mine (she used to work at The Economist). A great wit. Big loss for The Economist when she left.

  2. February 14, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    I'm sure it was a great loss. I love her work. The first time I saw her was on the Discovery Channel or a similar network. It seems I keep stumbling across former and current Economist employees. Here's to my poor balance! For all you romantics out there, I highly recommend her book, "Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation," for this Valentine's Day.

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