Open Source biology

How long will it take to grow plants with silicon leaves?

Whatever Carl Woese writes, even in a speculative vein, needs to be taken seriously. In his “New Biology” article, he is postulating a golden age of pre-Darwinian life, when horizontal gene transfer was universal and separate species did not yet exist. Life was then a community of cells of various kinds, sharing their genetic information so that clever chemical tricks and catalytic processes invented by one creature could be inherited by all of them. Evolution was a communal affair, the whole community advancing in metabolic and reproductive efficiency as the genes of the most efficient cells were shared. Evolution could be rapid, as new chemical devices could be evolved simultaneously by cells of different kinds working in parallel and then reassembled in a single cell by horizontal gene transfer.

But then, one evil day, a cell resembling a primitive bacterium happened to find itself one jump ahead of its neighbors in efficiency. That cell, anticipating Bill Gates by three billion years, separated itself from the community and refused to share. Its offspring became the first species of bacteria—and the first species of any kind—reserving their intellectual property for their own private use. With their superior efficiency, the bacteria continued to prosper and to evolve separately, while the rest of the community continued its communal life. Some millions of years later, another cell separated itself from the community and became the ancestor of the archea. Some time after that, a third cell separated itself and became the ancestor of the eukaryotes. And so it went on, until nothing was left of the community and all life was divided into species. The Darwinian interlude had begun.

The Darwinian interlude has lasted for two or three billion years. It probably slowed down the pace of evolution considerably. The basic biochemical machinery of life had evolved rapidly during the few hundreds of millions of years of the pre-Darwinian era, and changed very little in the next two billion years of microbia evolution. Darwinian evolution is slow because individual species, once established evolve very little. With rare exceptions, Darwinian evolution requires established species to become extinct so that new species can replace them

Now, after three billion years, the Darwinian interlude is over. It was an interlude between two periods of horizontal gene transfer. The epoch of Darwinian evolution based on competition between species ended about ten thousand years ago, when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the biosphere. Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the main driving force of change. Cultural evolution is not Darwinian. Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance. Cultural evolution is running a thousand times faster than Darwinian evolution, taking us into a new era of cultural interdependence which we call globalization. And now, as Homo sapiens domesticates the new biotechnology, we are reviving the ancient pre-Darwinian practice of horizontal gene transfer, moving genes easily from microbes to plants and animals, blurring the boundaries between species. We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species other than our own will no longer exist, and the rules of Open Source sharing will be extended from the exchange of software to the exchange of genes. Then the evolution of life will once again be communal, as it was in the good old days before separate species and intellectual property were invented.

(Via Ross Douthat.)



It’s been four days and four nights of nearly continuous rain, and there’s no end in sight. Bleah. Some jackass photographer called blue skies “boring.” I would really appreciate some boredom right about now. There are undoubtedly endless variations to play on the junk discs and Photoshop theme, but I’d rather get out on my bike.

Moving pictures

I’ve started yet another weblog. This one is exclusively for posting videos. YouTube is handy, but the quality is lousy. I’d like to show things I find interesting at larger sizes and higher resolution. So far, all that’s there is the opening of Denno Coil, which is one of the better examples from recent series.

For those interested in the technical stuff: The Flash player is WP-FLV, which is based on the JW FLV Player.

Update: Getting the quality I want is going to take some work. (Is it even possible to make a .flv file that isn’t jerky?) In the meantime, you can download a higher-quality Quicktime file here (12 megabyes).


Recently Astro counted down his picks for the best anime openings. Yesterday Steven discussed what an opening needs to do and surveys a number of examples, good and bad. Shingu may indeed have the worst opening ever, but I can think of a couple of alternative picks. NieA_7‘s isn’t bad — if you have the sound off. (In compensation, the ending is charming.) Mushishi‘s is nowhere near as obnoxious, but it’s dull, with an annoying song ((This may be excessively harsh, but I’ve heard far too many singer/guitarists with thin voices over the years.)) and abstract, yet bland, imagery, and it tells you nothing about the show.

Go with the flow


I finished Shingu. The final episodes were spectacular and largely satisfying, but I want to think about them a bit before I declare the show a complete success. I will say that it is a superior series that I can recommend to anyone who likes imaginative, surprising stories.

Show time

As I expected, the story has gotten darker as it nears the climax, but Shingu is still a great deal of fun.


German cameras. ((There are two different brands alluded to here, Contax, obviously, but also the M-series Leica (though the latter were rangefinder cameras, not SLRs like Futaba’s camera).)) So they still shoot film in 2070?


Embarrassing music


Boy or girl?

Bonus link: Ubu on what didn’t happen.

Too damn many words?

Lexicon Lost:

Last spring, Gilles de Robien, France’s Education Minister, declared that schools in suburban Paris would teach more grammar and vocabulary to integrate immigrants and prevent future riots. The British Minister of State for Schools, Jim Knight, immediately called this Frenchie rot. He insisted that grammar and vocabulary are elitist, and therefore are what cause youth riots.


Scintillate, scintillate, globule vivivic
Would I could fathom thy matter specific
Lustily proud in the ether capacious
Strongly resembling a gem carbonaceous.

(Via a pretentious windbag.)

Incidental pleasures II


Baseball as a martial art


Armed and dangerous little sisters


Dancing aliens in tuxes


Sometimes I have got to know What Happens Next. This was the case with Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster trilogy, which I read in one (long) sitting, and with Misaki Chronicles, which I watched in one evening. Other times, I want to go slowly and savor every little bit. I spent a week on John Crowley’s Little, Big, and not because it was a thick book. I’ve got two discs left of Shingu left, and I’m not going to rush through them. I’m enjoying the series too much. There are still surprises in every episode, even though I’m past the half-way point and the characters are old friends now.

Earlier this year I wondered if I’ve seen all the first-rate anime that’s available. This month I watched Divergence Eve/Misaki Chronicles and I’m in the middle of Shingu. Denno Coil also has been excellent so far. My interest in anime will eventually diminish, but it won’t happen as soon as I expected.

While there is still first-rate anime to be found, anime criticism remains a scandalously inept guide. Reviews of the Misaki saga range from limp to stupid, and there are virtually no reviews of Shingu at all. If Steven hadn’t written about them, I would never have bothered with either.