Thursday, January 31, 2013
The Sex Life Of Amoebas
The amoeba (or ameba, depending on which crossword puzzle you are doing) is a shapeless unicellular organism of the genus, Protozoa. According to reference material found in science stacks at the Library of Congress, accessible only by funicular, they are identified by their extreme tininess. They are so tiny that when an amoeba invites a billion of its friends to its 25th birthday party it can't tell whether they showed up or not.
We mustn't assume the amoeba under discussion is 25 human years old. That would be silly. We must understand amoebas (or amoebae, if the crossword is an ancient Roman one) are asexual. They do not go steady or perform stunts to impress each other. They avoid these social and developmental complexities by growing from ages zero to 25 in about a second --instructive to parents whose adolescent offspring have reached the age of sentiment, a strange period when they get very excited about one another and feel things that scare the hell out of everybody. This is why I encourage my kids to be over 25 years old --over 40 if they can manage it-- and have always done so.
Amoebas do, however, sometimes gather and achieve a form of sociality. These communities are created mainly by a variety called Dictyostelium discoideum when food supplies run low or when they get lonesome. The result is a multi-cellular organism. Each amoeba takes on one of two roles. They either become spores that reproduce, or stalks that lift the spores above the ground to more favorable environments. Here is a microscopic rendering:
This was the setting for the Protozoan Reformation in 1517, when Luther published The Ninety-Five Theses. It concluded in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia that ended years of European religious wars. In 1620, many spores blew westward and landed in Massachusetts in time for Thanksgiving.