Friday, February 05, 2010

Does a potato have DNA (and where does it keep it?)

I am just now reading Richard Dawkins book, The Greatest Show on Earth. Naturally it is full to the brim with intriguing facts, such as 19% of the people in England believe that the Earth travels around the sun once a month (Pg. 434). Of course this follows logically from a Monty Python poll from 1969 which stated that most British housewives could not tell the difference between Whizzo butter and a dead crab, but I digress.

Early in the book Dawkins uses a thought experiment to show the connection between a rabbit and a leopard. In the experiment you imagine a line of rabbits stretching into the past, each one the descendant of the one in front of it. You follow the line back into the past and over thousands and millions of years you see the rabbits become more and more primitive forms. Eventually you will come upon an ancestor to both the rabbit and the leopard. Dawkins calls this the "hairpin bend". So now you follow this hairpin bend back through the millenia up to the present time, to the modern leopard. Dawkins "hairpin bend" in this case is the most recent common ancestor that rabbits and leopards have. He makes the point that it doesn't matter what two animals you use, porcupines and dolphins or humans and haddock, at some point in the long distant past there is a common ancestor or a "hairpin bend".
It has to be admitted that Dawkins displays a real bias with this particular experiment, or at least with how he presents it. It would appear that Richard is only concerned with the animal kingdom. Well now, what about the plant kingdom? The majestic potato, the indomitable grooved honey-nut? Imagine the hairpin bend between a tomato and an oak tree. How far back would you have to go to find the hairpin bend between a duck-billed platypus and a Douglas fir? A heck of a long way back would be my guess, but Dawkins doesn't even mention this.
Another hairpin bend that Dawkins utterly fails to mention but which I am personally curious about is that between any televangelist and a steaming pile of poo. Personally I don't think that is a bend you would have to go too far back to find because I figure that they are both descended from slightly larger piles of poo. Heh.
Anyway... Humouroceros
PS: If it seems as though i am ripping on Richard Dawkins, well it's all in good fun. A jest, if you will. I have read a few of his books and I really like how he explains things, how clear he can make the most complex concept. He makes much more sense than the idea that the universe was created in six days by some god wiggling it's nose.


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