Thursday, July 1, 2010

Astounding. Amazing.

For as much as I complain about how stupid and primitive we all are, we can occasionally be clever and brilliant. My student aides will pull this on me at times. Just when I think they've got brains the size of marshmallows that will never grow into the front of their skulls, they surprise me by concocting some type of brilliant solution to a problem. I guess I do the same to them. Just when they are about to write me off as a grizzled old ape completely alzheimered out, I amaze them.

Case in point. One student aide examines a text message on his cell phone and asks to no one in particular, "How much is a wizard of pot?"
I think a moment, actually think out loud, and say "Ounce. Abbreviation O-Z. OZ. Wizard of OZ. An ounce".
"...Did you just think of that?"
"That's pretty good".
"I still have my moments".

Mother Nature does the same thing to us. That's what is so cool about life on earth. Just when you think everything is settled, someone finds something that makes you say "wow".

Take the fossils they just found down in Gabon, in Western Africa, near the Congo. Here is a link to a  better picture of them. These are fossils of multicellular organisms that date back to 2.1 billion years ago. So what?

Well, before this find, the oldest fossils of multicellular life - animal life - go back to perhaps six or seven hundred million years, to the pre Cambrian. It was assumed that multicellular life, or life that you could actually see with the unaided eyes, got its start around that time. Prior to that, it was all microbes, going all the way back to the origin of life.

This is just astounding. No really. It changes a lot of assumptions. It was thought that all that was around for two billion years was scum. Bacterial mats. Not that they aren't complex in their own right. But still, they're just scum. It means we have a lot of rethinking to do about life. 

A cell, in and of itself, is a pretty amazing thing. I don't think our engineers have even come close to building a machine as complex as the innards of a cell. 

So then it is just that much more amazing when cells can communicate and cooperate together to form an organism. It's just a whole other added layer of complexity on top of that.

And now they've found that all this stuff was going on two billion years before we thought it happened. Why, it poses lots of questions.

Hopefully, the fossil site at Gabon will provide answers.

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