Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Chet Raymo, “Palm Reading”

 
 “Palm Reading”
by Chet Raymo

“I find myself looking at the palm of my hand. The pattern of lines in which palm readers claim to read my fate. A criss-cross of indentations that is apparently unique to me. Then I look at my other palm. The same pattern, in mirror image. And I'm gobsmacked.

It all started out as a single fertilized cell. 2. 4. 8. 16. 32. Eventually, tens of trillions of cells. How do the cells multiplying in my left hand know what the cells in my right hand are doing? How is such perfect symmetry maintained across what is in effect molecular light-years?

Genes, of course. Those little satchels of info carried along by every cell, copied with amazing robustness at each division. Chet's handprint. But to say that says very little. Back in June the journal Science had a special section on morphogenesis in the developing organism. The most common word was "mystery."
Development is, literally, the journey of a life time, and it is a trip still as mysterious as it is remarkable. A readiness to say "I don't know" is a defining characteristic of science. Not something, I imagine, that would occur to a palm reader.”

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