Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Scientific Interlude

by Bill Kirton

Away from the usual self-advertising and PR plugs for a change. Two items I read a while back – one on a website, the other in The Observer – set up some scientific musings. Science to me usually means fascinating things which I don’t understand, but it often leads to trains of thought I wouldn’t otherwise have.

The first item was about chromosomes. I know, of course, that they’re made of DNA and proteins and carry our genes. When I checked Wikipedia, there was stuff about regulatory elements, nucleotide sequences, eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells as well, but (as they keep saying in the film Airplane), that’s not important right now. What is important is that we (humans) have 46 of them. But – and this is the interesting bit – it’s also possible that we have 48. And why is that interesting? Well, we all know that chimpanzees also have 48, but – and this time it really is the interesting bit – so do potatoes.

In the evolutionary ladder, therefore, we are on a par with potatoes. (The temptation at this point is to digress into the class structure implicit in varieties such as King Edward, Belle de Fontenay, Duke of York and Saxon. I'll resist it.)

The second piece of science, however, offers hope that such parity will soon change because stem cell researchers in Edinburgh have succeeded in cultivating brain cells. Not by sucking out real brain cells and prodding them, or from the practice of using bits of embryos, which upsets so many people who think only God should do that, but by doing stuff with skin cells. (‘Prodding’ and ‘Doing stuff with’ are scientific terms.) Thus, we can look forward to a future in which our descendants are clothed not in skin but in brains, which will give us a clear edge over our potato cousins who, even if they did manage to follow our evolutionary lead, would still get peeled and thereby lose their ability to think.

To some of you, this may seem a frivolous misuse and indeed misappropriation of important scientific advances, but I take my lead from one of the greats of British comedy, Tommy Cooper, whose use of statistics was exemplary. He once revealed the following:

“Apparently, 1 in 5 people in the world are Chinese. There are five people in my family, so it must be one of them. It’s either my mum or my dad, my older brother Colin, or my younger brother Ho-Cha-Chu. (Pause.) I think it’s Colin.”


Jackie King said...

Thanks for my morning smile. I loved this post.

Jackie King said...

Thanks for my morning smile. I loved this post.

Jean Henry Mead said...

lol, Bill. I needed a laugh this morning. How does Mister Potato Head fit into the scheme of things?

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks Jackie and Jean. As for Mr Potato Head, I suspect he's merely the spearhead for a world takeover by a sinister coalition of root vegetables.