Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Mixotrich's Tale

Richard Dawkins' great book- "The Ancestor's Tale" tells the story of evolution backwards- from man to microbe- so as not to give the incorrect impression that we are the pinnacle of the evolutionary tree. This is frankly annoying. Who would write a history book starting in the present day, then heading backwards? Hopefully, some future edition will be re-written backwards.

Regardless, it is a tremendous book- highly recommended- but I've found that i tend to dip into it's encyclopedic pages every few months. One of my favourite bits is towards the 'end' - regarding the Mixotrich.

The Mixotric - (didn't you know this already?) is a single celled organism that lives its entire life in the gut of a termite- helping it to digest wood cellulose. The termite thinks its universe is the termite mound, but the Mixotrich thinks its entire universe is the gut of a single termite.

What's interesting is that the Mixotrich moves by holding on to a team of spirochaete bacteria- using them for propulsion. Quite bizarre. I guess from the spirochaete's perspective, the universe is a single Mixotrich.

One of the fundamentally amazing things about the universe is its ability to form nested complex structures at all scales. The universe as we perceive it may be only a fragment of what's out there.

1 comment:

Whaddaya think?