Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

This Week's Sponsor

End users aren't your enemy! Kolide gets users to fix their own device compliance problems–and unsecure devices can't log in. Click here to learn how.

‘The Scientist Who Scrambled Darwin’s Tree of Life’

This story (actually a book excerpt) by David Quammen hits my sweet spot. It’s a magazine feature about science that mixes the personalities of the scientists, the excitement of discovery, and a solid explanation of some mind-blowing discoveries that really change how we look at the origins of life on this planet.

This is my favorite part:

The mechanics [to read ribosomal RNA] were intricate, laborious and a little spooky. They involved explosive liquids, high voltages, radioactive phosphorus, at least one form of pathogenic bacteria and a loosely improvised set of safety procedures. Courageous young grad students, postdocs and technical assistants, under a driven leader, were pushing their science toward points where no one had gone before. OSHA, though recently founded, was none the wiser….

The work was deceptively perilous. [Former grad student Mitchell] Sogin described to me the deliveries of radioactive phosphorus (an isotope designated as P32, with a half-life of 14 days), which amounted to a sizable quantity arriving every other Monday. The P32 came as liquid within a lead “pig,” a shipping container designed to protect the shipper, though not whoever opened it. Sogin would draw out a measured amount of the liquid and add it to whatever bacterial culture he intended to process next. “I was growing stuff with P32,” he said, tossing that off as a casual memory. “It was crazy. I don’t know why I’m alive today.”

I’ve heard of horizontal gene transfer before, but the ramifications of that discovery had never really hit me until I read this article. Life is wondrous and complicated and we are still struggling to understand all the biological mechanisms that drive its growth and change.

—Linked by Jason Snell

Search Six Colors