Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Monday, 27 February 2006

Biology Rocks!

I love biology. I really enjoy studying it. I'm so grateful to be able to teach it! Tomorrow we have a lab in dichotomous keys, where you have to find similarities and differences between different types of leaves, and then put them into different categories using an either/or format. But I think leaves don't smell good enough. So I went to the local souq and found 11 different fish at the different stalls, which smell very wonderful- a shark, 3 flatfish, and 7 bony normal fish, all different species! It's very exciting. And with one exception for 30 dirhams, I was getting the smallest fish possible so they either gave them to me for 2 dirhams or for free (in the case of the shark).

I used the pets today in cladistic keys we are designing. Cladistics is an increasingly popular way of doing taxonomy, looking at derived characteristics to determine evolutionary relationships such that every group is monophyletic, with the ancestor and all the descendents. I like this monophyleticism bit, but it's making things very complicated. I've realized recently that a lot of taxonomy is getting turned on it's head. The Decapods (crabs and lobsters) are all messed up. There are domains now, bigger than kingdoms, and no one knows how many kingdoms there are, but probably somewhere between 20 and 120, mostly unicellular. This is so different from what I studied in school, when there were 5 kingdoms only! Now they are truthfully expressing reality, acknowledging how great a difference there is between different types of bacteria, more difference than there is between us and plants- but it makes for a lot of relearning.

And restructuring of thoughts. Used to be Family Hominidae was just us, and our immediate ancestors, the Astralopithecus. Now, Pongidae got subsumed in there, and our family officially includes orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees. Gibbons are in the superfamily. What we're saying is there is more genetic and ancestral similarity between us and orangutans than between orangutans and gibbons. But it's okay, we have a subfamily so we can be separate, Homininae. It's just us...and gorillas and chimpanzees. There's more similarity between us and gorillas than between gorillas and orangutans. But just for us, they set up a whole new category. There's a Tribe Hominini, just above genera. And that's just got us....and the chimpanzees. Turns out, we are so similar to them, that there's no way to divide us up any further, other than to say they are in a separate genus, as is Astralopithecus. Kind of a bummer not to have our own little family any more. But what a work is man? A bit humbling too, to know that there is nothing special in us, other than that which God breathed in- it is God's work that makes us unique, and not anything inherent in our genetic code.

But I digress. I used our pets as examples today of organisms, so we can set up a cladigram, to measure the differences between different organisms, and thereby indicate relationships. I've really enjoyed the pets lately. Ras alQasa, Hard-Headed, the bird (named by the kids), sings at the oddest times. The other day I'm lecturing about marine biology, and every time I said the word cilia, he would start to belt out. Unfortunately, I had to use this word a number of times at that moment. It got so that I actually had to spell out the word so he wouldn't interrupt us.

I tried putting the frog, Houdini, in the case with the turtle, Nightcrawler, covering it with seran wrap to keep him in. That didn't work. Nightcrawler chewed through the seran wrap, allowing Houdini to climb on his back and jump out. For days I couldn't find Houdini. Nightcrawler was easier to locate, being a turtle- but still pretty amazing. Following Houdini out meant jumping down from a meter off the floor, where he left a brown smudge, and then crawling off to the corner.

I finally located Houdini a few days later. He had hopped back to his favorite spot, a potted plant, where he buried himself in the dirt. I've given up trying to corral him. It seems he won't run away as long as he is allowed to hibernate in the dirt, which he enjoys, so I'm lettin him go free range at the moment. He just stays all the time there at the bottom of the plant, quite content.

It seems these days that only Bu'azzowi, the fish, stays where he is told, and doesn't utter a word.

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