Clicking in through a post at The Loom, I was led to a wonderfully inspirational site, the Interactive Tree Of Life! For some people, a site like this puts them immediately in mind of Darwin. Others, Linnaeus. Others, Gould. Others, others.
Me, I see a site like this and immediately think of Ogden Nash. Naturally.
Nash wrote classic little verses inspired by various animals. Here, for instance, is a site that presents the Nash classics “The Octopus”, “The Panther”, “Centipede”, “The Firefly”, “Ant”, “The Cow”, “The Turtle”, and several others (although, if memory serves, “The Eel” as presented on this site is incomplete). They are wonderful little pieces, unmistakably and marvelously Ogden Nash.
One notes, however, that they are limited to animals. The Tree Of Life site reminds us of just how narrow a focus that really is. So, as I said, I look at that interactive site and wonder what Ogden Nash would have thought of it. I make no pretensions about coming even close to Nash, but I thought I’d take a stab at a few. Each of these is represented on the site by a number and a picture, with links to source articles for information.
My point is not that this is any sort of high art–rather, my point is that the stereotype of the expansive vision of the artist, and the narrow focus of the scientist… are stereotypes, not reality. The tree of life is awe-inspiring, all the more so because it is not a fiction, but well-documented reality.
Oh, yeah, the verses…
Escherichia coli 562; Shigella flexneri 623
Escherichia coli and Shigella flexneri
Are technically different—but really, not very.
Porphyromonas gingivalis 837
To tell the honest truth,
Attacks the oral cavity—
The gum, and bone, and tooth;
I did not heed my mother’s word—
She warned me (quote: “Forsooth!”)
But I chose not to brush or floss,
And now my thmile ith looth.
Pyrococcus furiosus 2261
Remember the movie “Some Like It Hot”
With Marilyn, Tony, and Jack?
This archaebacterium’s like that a lot
(But it doesn’t have Marilyn’s rack).
But in sea-water heated to 100 C
It can still make a go at mitosis—
With habits like this, this creature must be
Oryza sativa 4530
Oryza sativa (the Latin for “rice”)
Is genetically simple, which really is nice;
The genome for corn is some five times as big
And for wheat, roughly forty times larger—you dig?
But rice is a staple for billions, you know,
And the template for much of the grain that we grow.
So we study Oryza, my favorite crop,
To find out the genes behind “snap, crackle, pop!”
Drosophila melanogaster 7227
Geneticists love this little guy—
In my kitchen, he’s a disaster;
We both agree, the dude is fly:
Gallus gallus 9031
Nine-oh-three-one, or Gallus gallus
Comes as quite a shock:
The picture shows (no, not a phallus)
One fantastic cock!
Rattus norvegicus 10116
Rattus norvegicus, Norway Rat,
Is cute as a bug, and that is that.
Cryptosporidium hominis 237895
O Cryptosporidium hominis!
It’s never good to see ya—
For countless anno dominis
You’ve brought us diarrhea!
Wigglesworthia brevipalpis 36870
Wigglesworthia brevipalpis (How I love that name!)
Isn’t as cute as kittens, but it has a claim to fame—
It lives symbiotically, in the gut of the blood-sucking tsetse fly
(You’d think D.I. would eat this up, but they don’t even want to try.)
The tsetse fly carries trypanosomes, which kill both man and cattle;
Without ol’ Wiggly, the flies are sterile, and that is half the battle.
The genome project could help in this, but just you keep in mind,
There is nothing we can do if it’s intelligently designed.