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Spring bursts upon us

February 24, 2017

I sniffle, I sneeze, I clog up. Must be Spring. The pines are about to let loose their barrage of pollen, where every gutter runs yellow after a rain, and breezy days spawn visible clouds of hopeful sex cells. Dr. Ben Channell used to remark about all the plants having sex in public like that, and he would characterize what we saw in pond water under dissecting scopes as “…a veritable Mardi Gras of activity.” Doctors Ben Channell and Elsie Quarterman were mainstays of a Vanderbilt University biology department before molecular biology and biomedicine took over the field there. Long ago, far away, RIP, Ben and Elsie.

I have been diverted from Orwell’s 1984 by The Lives of a Cell (Lewis Thomas), which I found by happenstance at a Little Free Library. I seldom re-read books, but made an exception in this case. This was exciting reading for a young biology major, way back when, and Thomas’ reasoning and attention still hold water. He likens the Earth to one large cell, and then in a series of essays (first published in NEJM), explores everything from the nascent molecular biology craze to language and population projections (on target, btw). Just as an illustration that scientists have been on the right page for a long time re Earth’s future, anthropogenic pollution, and the fitful progress of medicine and applied science, this work deserves another look. Unfortunately, too little of what Thomas regarded as urgent business has been addressed, and the takeover of medicine by insurance interests was foretold. Sad.

Hope you are hopeful, in a very constructive way, mliswilltravel.

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”–Neil deGrasse Tyson

Doctors Ben Channell and Elsie Quarterman:
Dr. Ben Channell, left, and Dr. Elsie Quarterman view the mystic bubble, a plant propagation unit, at Cheekwood on Sept. 5, 1963.

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