Next time you take a walk through a forest, sit down on the fallen leaves, rustle a hole in the top layer, breathe deeply, and take in the aroma of fresh earth. Sterilised soil smells somehow wrong to our noses – it lacks the homey feel of childhood dens and freshly ploughed fields. But on productive land, like an ancient forest or well-tended farm, it smells right. Our noses know what to look for – the rich earthy scent of microbial decomposition. Continue reading
It’s obvious that our own planet is friendly to life, but what about the rest of the universe? Is the rest of space too cold and dark – or hot – to allow life to develop? Was the development of life on earth a hugely improbably event, or pretty much a forgone conclusion? The Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Christian de Duve spent the last few years of his career investigating this question, and came up with a surprising answer. In this post I’ll share five of the characteristics of life that he studied. Continue reading
Children are delighted by living things that most adults think are icky or mundane. Last spring my daughter Lucy, now age 6, found a large earthworm and named it Cinderella. She played with it for hours. Not a week later my son Josiah, 4, caught a big brown toad in our backyard and squealed repeatedly, “He’s adorable!” (Not everyone would pick that adjective, but I agreed.) They fixate on the fish tank at the dentist’s office or our family’s ant farm, taking in every detail and pestering me with a steady stream of questions.
Some of the questions they ask are profound. We were almost to school the other day when Lucy asked, “Is there any number bigger than infinity?” and then, “Is God bigger than infinity?” I paused, breathless with parental joy, before I responded. Continue reading
I am an ex-cell biologist. Whilst I was a PhD student, it felt like cells were involved in every aspect of my life. I would grow cells, study cells, read about cells, spin them in centrifuges, look at them down a microscope, and visit them at 2am to take timepoints for particularly gruelling experiments. When I spoke to my relatives, the question ‘How are you?’ was often followed by: ‘How are your cells behaving?’. Continue reading
Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. If the foot says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand’, does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the ear says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye’, does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body. So the eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you’, or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you’. Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary.
(1 Corinthians 12.14 –22, CEB)
In this passage, St Paul is referring to parts of the body that we can see, but equally important are the millions of molecular machines and processes that we cannot see but nevertheless sustain our every Continue reading
Anyone who has watched enough nature documentaries will know that life can exist pretty much anywhere on Earth. One episode of the Blue Planet II series showed a hydrothermal vent – a crack in the mid-ocean ridge where hot gases and water pour out. Bacteria thrive in the scalding water around the vents, getting their energy from chemicals like hydrogen and sulphur, and enabling a rich ecosystem of bacteria-eating crabs, shrimps, and other animals to build up to such a density that it rivals Continue reading