Thursday, May 04, 2006

The miracle of self

All six of Mother's children and about half of her grandchildren were in Chattanooga for the funeral. Yes, it is clear they are family. Siblings and cousins. Here a mother's mouth, here a father's eyes, here a grandma's nose. Even a child's posture evokes associations. The genes flow down through the generations.

We start as one of half-a-million eggs stored in our mother's ovaries, and one of the hundreds of millions of sperm produced each day in our father's testes. Egg meets sperm, and a multiplication of cells begins, mother-genes and father-genes switching on and off, certainly not at random but with sufficient chemical complexity to be essentially a matter of chance.

Here's how my erstwhile friend the microbiologist Ursula Goodenough describes it: "Patterns of gene expression are to organisms as melodies and harmonies are to sonatas. It's all about which sets of proteins appear in a cell at the same time (the chords) and which sets come before or after other sets (the themes) and at what rate they appear (the tempos) and how they modulate one another (the developments and transitions. When these patterns go awry we see malignancy. When they change by mutation we can get new kinds of organisms. When they work, we get a creature."

A unique and special creature, waiting to be loved.