Saturday, May 10, 2008

Is It a ...?

As I read the article in Thursday’s Post on the duck-billed platypus I found myself thinking a lot about evolution and intrigued with this species that is so bizarre.

The platypus has always been interesting because of its strange name and its body that seems like a Mr-Potato-Head gone awry. Scientists have now determined the entire genetic code of this bizarre animal, including genetic modules that are mammalian, reptilian, avian.

There are genes for laying eggs (reptilian). There are genes for producing milk (mammalian), although the platypus has no nipples and the young must nurse through “milk patches” on the mother’s stomach. And, most surprisingly, there are genes for making venom like that of a snake (reptilian), which the platypus stores in sharp spurs its back legs.

Most interesting is the animal’s system for sex determination. Whereas humans have two chromosomes (X and Y), the platypus has 10, closer to the chromosomes of birds.

Another genetic discovery was the many genes that detect chemical signals released underwater by other animals. This is important since the platypus swims with its eyes closed.

This unique animal gives us a glimpse at our own evolution, helping us understand where we came from and how we evolved. It’s like a photograph snapped 170 million years ago when important genetic decisions were being made that eventually resulted in human beings.

What I want to know is whether we decided to ditch the venomous spurs when we figured out that we could inflict just as much damage with our words?

12 Comments:

Blogger Gary said...

I read this information online the other day and was simply fascinated (more than I thought I'd be) by these discoveries. With the current world 'climate' and the future of man in question, I began to wonder what the future holds. What will earth look like after we are long gone? What will ultimately survive? The platypus is just another example of hope and adaptation. Makes one go "hummm".

10:22 AM  
Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

your last line is most thought-provoking. if I understand evolution; an evolutionary approach would say shedding venomous spurs in favor of inflicting harm with words isn't a 'decision' but a by-product of 'the strongest'

and this is a perfect example of the weakness of taking an evolutionary approach explaining human behavior...

although we can't decide to shed venomous spurs we can decide how to react, respond and how to talk to one another. n'est-ce pas?

11:00 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Gary -- I can just envision in another 170 million years some more advanced species looking at humans and wondering why in the world we are put together the way we are! :)

Mouse -- The scientist reading the last paragraph would undoubtedly be saying, "She is so full of shit! Doesn't she know humans didn't evolve from platypuses (not platypi)?" Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Nonetheless I have always been intrigued with how some things got dropped and others got added...

I think we are very much still in the process of learning how to talk to one another. Sometimes that ability seems to be going in the wrong direction.

11:18 AM  
Blogger lettuce said...

hmmm i don't know if i have the optimism about human nature to think we'd make that particular evolutionary decision.... wouldn't we have both?

they are weird and wonderful creatures thats for sure. As are armadillos

(my house has a bit of a thing about armadillos)
(they can fill their shells with air and walk across the bottom of rivers etc. - how cool is that?!!)

11:48 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Lettuce -- I too love armadillos. When I was in Bolivia a million years ago I bought a churango, a musical instrument made from the the shell of an armadillo. The hair continues to grow! I find these animals on the fringes to be the most interesting.

12:46 PM  
Blogger media concepts said...

"Evolution"? Are we still allowed to use that term? I thought it was "intelligent design," LOL. Coincidentally, I used the term "duckbill platypus" for the first time in a long time a few weeks ago, during a discussion in one of my writer's groups about words, phrases, and writing techniques that should go the way of the .....

2:42 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MC -- It will always be EVOLUTION to me; I don't give a crap about what is politically correct! As for the duckbill platypus, it is alive and well and is perhaps the most unusual looking animal to be found on the face of the earth (or under water).

9:19 PM  
Blogger yellojkt said...

Your last line is very funny. If you look at the chart that went with article, the platypus didn't quite know what it wanted to be, so it kept a bunch of stuff. And it is the only poisonous mammal. Except for us.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Yellojkt -- The Post issued a correction to say the platypus is NOT the only poisonous mammal. This article also mentions the shrew.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I am always amazed at how little diversity there is among life. Morphological difference can be great (any time I want to see just how weird and wonderful life can be, I only need to look at sea creatures: manta ray, nautilus, jelly fish, etc. A pretty exotic land creature would be the starnose mole).

Notwithstanding all this diversity, the general biological function is pretty much the same. The rat poison or ant poison you use is pretty much just as effective for other organisms (including humans) as it is against rats or ants.

The article is wrong by the way, the platypus is not the only venomous mammal; a number of shrews are also venomous.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- Yes, you mention some pretty strange animals. See my previous comment about the Post's error.

11:03 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Eek! mea culpa, I did not read that comment.

But, the article you linked to was not corrected at the time I read it. hmmm.

2:32 PM  

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