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Charles Darwin, the respected but often reviled author and developer of the theory of evolution, came up with this irrefutable fact during his lifetime of studies of plants, animals, and the origin of species: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Ironically, Darwin and his family turned out to be victims of his ignorance about inbreeding, evolution, and genetics. Researchers recently reported in the journal of BioScience that of his ten children, three died before the age of ten from bacterial infections often associated with inbreeding, and three of his married children suffered from infertility their entire lives. At age 30, Darwin married his first cousin Emma Wedgwood, a member of another prominent English family. Research on the first-cousin marriages of four generations of these two dynasties proved that it was quite possible for children to inherit the same version of a gene from both parents, thus causing a mild degree of inbreeding. This results in recessive diseases if a harmful gene is inherited from both parents. So much for science. We still have a lot to do. And sometimes we win and sometimes we lose tampering with Mother Nature. On average, the more we know about the science of “things” and how they evolve, the better off we are. But occasionally we go for the quick fix to make a buck and then cause all kinds of trouble.
The Killer Weeds
Monsanto and Dow Chemical are competitors, but they recognize a good thing by licensing weedkiller Roundup to each other. They have collaborated in selling corn seed around the world—but particularly in the U.S.—that is immune to the toxic weed killer Roundup. What a hot deal! Sell Monsanto corn seed at high prices, and then sell Monsanto weedkiller Roundup to the same farmers. But now we have spread so much Roundup around the country that the weeds are evolving to “superweed” level and no longer roll over and die. They survive and spread. That’s often the nature of things.
We really don’t know much about a lot of things, and we keep getting surprised by new discoveries practically every hour of the day. Put a tiny cherry tomato in your dinner salad for color. There’s almost a 100 percent chance it will have no taste. Stare at it for a minute. That little tomato has 31,760 genes, carefully counted by a large number of plant geneticists from 14 countries over the last nine years. Potatoes and tomatoes have 92 percent of the same DNA, although one is a fruit and the other a vegetable. The potato happens to have a few genes that makes it a vegetable. So much for that kernel of knowledge. Our Supreme Court, in scientific ignorance, decreed a tomato a vegetable some time ago. This is the same outfit that thought Citizens United was a good deal. Every botanist knows tomatoes are a fruit.
But the real puzzling question about that little tomato is (trumpets!) why it has 7,000 more genes than a hugely complicated human body. The tomato has a lot of relatives besides potatoes. It is the cousin of grapes, tobacco plants, peppers, eggplant, and the very poisonous nightshade. Nightshade is also known as Belladonna, Death Cherries, or Devil’s Berries. Rumor has it that the Devil makes his gardening rounds in the dead of night, trimming and watering his favorite plant.
How About That
Tomato Section At
Don’t They Look Tasty?
Corky and I never buy tomatoes in the winter. You might as well eat gorp sprinkled with red dye. We have watched Florida tomato pickers from Guatemala, Mexico, and other points south fill the huge trucks with green tomatoes hard enough to kill you in a tomato riot. There’s a fascinating book by Barry Estabrook titled “Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit.” I love chili, BLT sandwiches, lasagna, fried green tomatoes, tomato soup, spaghetti, and tomatoes in salads, and I’ll eat them right off the vine with a pinch of salt from a legit garden. But I don’t eat any if they are grown 1500 miles from home and, if they fell off a truck, would break asphalt. This short paragraph from the book says it all about the $5 billion “fresh” tomato business: “Tomato fields are sprayed with more than one hundred different herbicides and pesticides. Tomatoes are picked hard and green and are artificially gassed until their skins acquire a marketable hue. Modern plant breeding has tripled yields, but has also produced fruits with dramatically reduced amounts of calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C, and tomatoes that have fourteen times more sodium than the tomatoes we enjoy right out of our gardens. The relentless drive for low costs has fostered a thriving modern-day slave trade in the United States.” Corky and I have spent several winters motor-homing through Florida. We have watched pickers pick over a ton of tasteless tomatoes in a day—and not make a daily minimum wage. So Darwin’s theory of evolution serves the grower well and makes millionaires, but provides the public with rocks of tasteless crap.
Darwin Also Made
It Possible To Study
Our Genetic Landscape
And Save Many Lives
Humans have ruined tomatoes, but microbiologists are studying DNA, viruses in the virome (“good” viruses), and the human genome, and are beginning to study some of the estimated 10 trillion individual cells that make up our bodies. We are also a very complex ecosystem, a single habitat that “houses” over 100 trillion semi-good bacteria. I read someplace we have 150 different kinds of bacteria just on the palms of our hands. We are really beginning to move into Darwin’s territory for our survival.
Remember Oetzi the “Iceman,” whose 5,300-year-old body was discovered in the Italian Alps in 1991? Scientists have been working on his “murder” case for 20 years because his head was stove in. They have put together his full genome. He had brown eyes, type O blood, heart disease, was lactose intolerant, and was related to inhabitants of Corsica, Napoleon’s birthplace. How he got to the Italian Alps is still a mystery. He also had the first known infection of a Lyme disease bacterium.
We are coming closer to creating artificial life. The J. Craig Venter Institute has created a “synthetic cell” that has the possibilities of being used to create vaccines and biofuels. Is the creation of artificial life a good thing? Stay tuned. Keep an open mind.
Darwin says we have to adapt to survive. Here’s another case of evolution: China is making sensational progress in genetics. The Beijing Genomics Institute has discovered genetic changes that now allow Tibetans to cope better with low oxygen levels at higher and higher elevations. These changes took place as recently as 3,000 years ago. The Institute has also discovered a variant gene in southern Chinese that rapidly degrades alcohol to a chemical that does not intoxicate! It simply turns faces very red, which gives new meaning to the expression “I drank until I was red in the face!” We should spread the gene around at National Football League games.
And The Elimination
Of Deadly Genes
Life is mostly about sex. Through the use of infertility treatments, we have discovered how to solve the problem of “immobile” sperm. I think it’s fantastic that scientists have discovered that some sperm can’t swim a lick, so they have come up with a new procedure called “intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection,” which allows “non-swimmers” to father children.
Through genetic testing, we can determine if potential parents have genes that cause Tay-Sachs, Huntington’s, and other deadly diseases. Medical science today allows us to implant embryos in females without those bad mutations, knowing they cannot pass them on.
There is a negative message from all this research: our brains are getting smaller. Around 20,000 years ago, human brains reached about 1,500 cubic centimeters. Somehow we have lost 150 cubic centimeters of possible brain power to this date. Our problem? Clever, intelligent people have slightly bigger brains—but they have fewer babies than the less-clever. That’s how genetics works. Scientists have determined that up to four percent of human DNA comes from Neanderthals, our cousins. Now we know that our ancestors fooled around with Neanderthals about 35,000 years ago. Could those dalliances cause smaller brains? Inquiring minds want to know.
A Place Where Male
Smelled Too Much
I do not expect Roman Catholic bishops or the Vatican hierarchy or other Neanderthals to understand the physical and mental makeup of a person with an extra Y chromosome, but I’m going to make an attempt. Some of them may break away from centuries of head-in-the-sand Biblical voodoo and begin to understand that God created that person, too. Pedro Perez as an adolescent was skinny, did not like sports, and preferred knitting instead of playing with the neighborhood boys. At 13 he had a bike accident and doctors ordered some tests. One of the tests revealed Pedro had Klinefelter’s Syndrome, which may affect as many as one in 1,000 boys. He has three sex chromosomes (XXY) instead of the XY for males and the XX for females. Physically he is a male, but genetically he is a male and a female in one body. With Klinefelter’s he can never have children. He suffered late puberty. He needed testosterone shots to make him more masculine in appearance. Pedro has a girlfriend now, and at age 25 he enjoyed shaving for the first time. But inside he feels feminine: “I’m not gay. I just enjoy the things women enjoy. I love shopping and trying on clothes.” Pedro’s Catholic parents still don’t want to talk about his condition.
To the U.S. Conference of Bishops and the Vatican: Is Pedro a second-class citizen because of Klinefelter’s? Is Pedro going to Hell? Should Pedro be allowed to marry? Which sex? He is both male and female but genetically can’t procreate.
The times they are a-changin’. It was a bit shocking to read that a male motorist in South Carolina was arrested for displaying an “anatomically correct” replica of testicles on his rear bumper last week. He was given a warning ticket. But last July a woman was ticketed for having the same display on her truck’s bumper. Her “obscene display” case is about to go to trial. I guess that’s the difference between men and women in South Carolina.
I see the U.S. Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops are all hot and bothered about “religious liberty” in this country, whether it is Measure Three in North Dakota or ObamaCare. Actually they are hot and bothered about sex, a subject which has “bedeviled” them for centuries. Sex always seems to dominate their souls instead of having Jesus Christ’s teachings lift them to a grander passion. Sex “policy” is gradually destroying a great church that has often cared for the poor, sick, and distressed around the world. No bishop alive today could convince 92 percent of Catholic women not to use contraceptives in the past 50 years, but now they scream about how church “law” will be violated by ObamaCare. Let’s face it: celibacy is against nature. Every animal on earth has procreative urges, even amoebas. The subjection of the birthers of the human race to your pettiness and bad judgment, much like the Muslim Taliban, is against the natural order. Priests sexually assaulting adolescents is against the natural order, but the Vatican and bishops ducked, weaseled, and ignored the abuse until it has cost them over $2 billion in religious corporate money—and their integrity. Preparing Pope John Paul II for sainthood after he ignored the sexual abuse by thousands of priests of tens of thousands of adolescents is chutzpah beyond compare.
It absolutely amazes me. The Catholic Church is dead and awaiting burial in Europe. It is falling into religious obsolescence in the U.S. while attacking nuns who are trying to follow Jesus instead of Pope Benedict and his bishops. Their complaints about the Girl Scouts is totally incomprehensible. Perhaps 150 cubic centimeters is just too much to lose.