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Friday, October 16, 2009

Of Slugs and Men

Related Link » Steve Jones: Chapter 5, "Why Is There So Much Genetic Diversity?" in The Third Culture
Steve Jones is a biologist; professor of genetics at the Galton Laboratory of University College London; author of The Language of the Genes: Biology, History, and the Evolutionary Future (1993); coeditor (with Robert Martin and David Pilbeam) of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution (1992).

“I also have a vicarious interest in sex. After all, it's just a machine for generating diversity — differences between parents and offspring. Nobody really knows why sexual reproduction is there. About the only way to study it is to look at those few creatures who've given it up. Most slugs are hermaphrodites, but nearly all are relatively decorous about it; boy-girl meets girl-boy and nature takes its course. Some, though, have taken the easy way out. They fertilize themselves, effectively abandoning sex altogether. Their genes show that these species are essentially a mass of identical twins, with no diversity at all. We don't yet know why they do this: the only real pattern is that it pays to give up sex in the cold — in Norway, as compared with Spain, for example.
Because I do a lot of writing and broadcasting, I'm better known as a geneticist by the general public than I am by other geneticists. Although I write a lot about it, I've never done any serious work of my own in human genetics, so I'm a spectator of the subject rather than a participant. I'm grateful to my colleagues for being slightly less cynical about that than they have the right to be. I think they see that there's a role for the reporter in science. However, I can console myself with the thought that I'm one of the top six snail geneticists in the world, out of a field of perhaps half a dozen.” [emphasis added]
— Steve Jones in The Third Culture
In light of The Obama's "humbled" acceptance, it seems appropriate for the Nobel Committee to evolve recognition for sincere humility.

Although hermaphroditic slugs of Norway (who are content to continue f*cking themselves) are not likely to concur, nevertheless, I would nominate a Steve Jones, for example, as a worthy candidate for a Nobel Humility Prize, if it were made available.

h/t Theo

Post #967 Of Slugs and Men

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