Posted Monday morning, February 19, 2018.
Blepharisma japonica, “a free-living ciliated protozoan” found in Japan. Protozoans, according to Wikipedia, are “single-celled non-photosynthetic protists.” And protists, according to Charles C. Mann in his book “The Wizard and the Prophet” are “anything living that is not an animal, plant, fungi, or bacterium.” Got that? Me neither. Photo via Wikipedia.
Remarkable a scientist as she was, Lynn Margulis isn’t one of the two remarkable scientists of the title of the book the quote below is from, “The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World” by Charles C. Mann. The two are the influential environmentalists Norman Borlaug (the Wizard) and William Vogt (the Prophet). Mann brings Margulis into his story as an ironic commentator on how Borlaug’s and Vogt’s fields of inquiry and their visions of how to solve what they both saw as the major threat to human survival, overpopulation, were narrowly circumscribed by their individual biases and why what should have been complementary approaches to the problems caused by more and more people coming into the world and needing to eat, drink, wash, and irrigate crops, clothe themselves, go from here to there, heat and cool their homes, and occasionally treat themselves to a movie or ice cream or whatever turned into competing visions, a competition, Mann posits still persists even though both Borlaug and Vogt have long since shuffled off this mortal coil.
A researcher who specialized in cells and microorganisms, Margulis was one of the most important biologists of the last half century---she literally helped to reorder the tree of life, convincing her colleagues that it did not consist of two kingdoms (plants and animals), but five or even six (plants, animals, fungi, protists, and two types of bacteria)…
…Margulis couldn’t help regarding conservationists’ fixation on birds, mammals, and plants as evidence of their ignorance about the greatest source of evolutionary creativity: the microworld of bacteria, fungi, and portists. More than 90 percent of the living matter on earth consists of microorganisms, Margulis liked to remind people. Heck, there are as many bacterial cells in our body as there are human cells.
Bacteria and protists can do things undreamed of by clumsy mammals like us: form giant super-colonies, reproduce either sexually or by swapping genes with others, take in genes from entirely unrelated species, merge into symbiotic beings---the list is as endless as it is amazing. Microorganisms have changed the face of the earth, crumbling stone and even giving rise the oxygen we breathe. Compared to this power and diversity, Margulis liked to [say], pandas and polar bears were epiphenomena---interesting and fun, perhaps, but not actually significant.
---from The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann.
I’d have thought cities counted as super-colonies, but like I would know.