Mary Beth Writes

10/5/2023

Everybody loves zebras! Several years ago, we took a little grandkid to a zoo and when she saw the zebras her eyes got big and she blurted out. “Zeee-baaa!”

I bet “zebra” is one of the first fifty words most kids learn. If animals evolve to fit into a niche in the environment, did zebras evolve so toddlers would have something to say?.

Of course, the real question is, how did the zebra get it’s stripes? There actually is an answer and it is a clue to life on earth and the arrangement of the universe.

First of all, did you see “The Imitation Game” about Alan Turing and the Enigma machine? If not, watch it. It’s the story of one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century and how, because he was (quietly and discreetly) gay he was hounded by the British government to the point where he (probably) committed suicide when he was 41. QEII granted a “mercy pardon” in 2013 but obviously, Turing didn’t need a pardon. Western civilization did and still does.

Some historians say Turing was as important to the Allies winning WWII as Churchill. Maybe more so. Decoding the Enigma machine in 1940-41 enabled the Allies to know, among many things, where the German submarines were and thus to avoid them. Figuring out how to decode the Nazis who changed their codes daily, allowed the world to supply the European and Russian allies with food, military hardware, and soldiers.

But back to Zebras and their stripes:

in August of 1952 Turing published his only research paper in the field of biology; entitled ‘The chemical basis of morphogenesis.” He had noticed that the way the biology of living things works is through symmetry and asymmetry, so where do change and variation i.e., patterns come from? He worked on this conundrum. He was one of the first people to delve into biology via mathematics, to use mathematics to describe biological processes.

Example: think about zebras. They are all the same and they are all different. I have three kids with blond hair; each kid’s tone is slightly different and their cowlicks are different. If we closely study leaves and flowers, they are all the same and yet, each one unfolds and unfurls slightly differently.

This was what Turing was considering. What is the principle going on that allows for ‘same and different’ in the development of biological entities? How does one write this mathematically?

Turing theorized that biology happens when the early chemicals of life encounter each other. Depending on which two (and more) chemicals encounter each other, each chemical or chemical combo has its own signature rates of diffusion. When it encounters the other chemical/chemical comb the two substances will react in individual ways. It will always produce the same thing, but it will produce them in unique ways that are predictable if one has profoundly tuned instrument for observing the process.

Scientists call these encounters the ‘reaction–diffusion’ systems. Based on theoretical calculations – which we now call biological mathematics - these developments of patterns are known as Turing patterns.

So back to Zebras and everything else. Sure, it’s observable to all of us who are not geniuses that there are patterns going on all around us all the time. We also see that among every living thing there are differences that are, to our ability to see and understand the world, constant yet inexplicable.

What I think is so cool is that this process, Turing patterns says nothing is written in stone, not even stone. It’s ironic that Turing, the inventor of a formula of change, was not allowed to veer from obsolete ethical conventions. The man who spearheaded the fabrication of the first computer systems, whose genius would save millions of lives – that man was not allowed a safe space in which to be his own unique self.

Zebras exist for their own sakes and also as a metaphor for how change is the very framework of life.

https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/how-alan-turing-cracked-the-enigma-code

Don’t miss this…  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y09AixSNbeA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags

Comments

You made it through Z. I’ve really enjoyed your alphabet journey, dipping into every letter in a way that satisfied your curiosity and piqued mine. Thanks!
Mary Beth's picture

Hah! Thanks. I have some ideas for what comes next, but I'm going to let them stew a while...

Ta Da! I second everything Mary said above!
Mary Beth's picture

I got interested in diffusion gradients and their role in developmental biology back in grad school. I read Turing’s paper on gradients, and I read the later published paper by Lewis Wolpert. The latter drew upon Turing’s work on gradients and published a theoretical paper on the French Flag Problem, which addressed how morphogen gradients could set up a field with 3 different characteristics. I’d had just enough of differential equations, as an undergrad, to not get thrown by the fancy looking equations (there weren’t really that many in the papers). I think that I had even considered doing a postdoc with Wolpert, but didn’t. I can’t remember the exact reason(s) why. He might have written back that he had no money for another postdoc; plus, I was a bit uncertain as to whether or not J and I should head off to the UK for a couple of years (I was the dutiful only child who worried about my aging parents, near Boston). The problem with the kind of work that Wolpert was doing, at the time, was that the morphogens had not been identified. Thus, there was no way to gather any experimental information about the proposed concentration gradients. In later decades, some actual morphogens were identified. Here is a review of the French Flag Problem:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_flag_model

Very interesting!

Add new comment

CAPTCHA

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Three Things / Story, Eclipse, Brando

1. I scheduled my Substack story to go out at 8AM this morning. I just looked to see why it didn’t show up and it says it is going to be sent at 8:49 tonight. I’m going to leave it like that. Maybe 9PM on a weekend night is a good time to send short fiction. Let me know if you have an opinion.

2. I read this quote by Marlon Brando who said this early in his career. “I’m not afraid of anything and I don’t love money.”

Even though this is probably not exactly true of me and you, I do love the bravado.

Peace Like a River / Book Report

4/3/2024 She Writes

I just finished reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger and I am going to talk about it for a little bit before I forget how profoundly interesting and evocative this book was and is, at least to me.

I get emails from Boswell Bookstore (2559 N Downer Ave in Milwaukee). They host artist events pretty often and Monday evening, April 15th Len and I will be there for the Author Evening with Leif Enger. You can look up more of the details if you are interested. (Tickets are free but you need to reserve them.)

My Grandkids & 'Wandering Stars'

4/1/2024

The past month has been jam-packed. The week in Mineral Point. Len’s two-day seminar in Chicago. Last week we had various grandkids here for three overnighters and yesterday our family came to Easter dinner here in our house which was clean after a week with grandkid overnighters so you know that was a piece of cake. Len smoked two hams (yes, hard to keep them lit) and I made the largest amounts of from-scratch scalloped potatoes plus macaroni and cheese that I have ever made. As in, I grated four pounds of cheese Saturday afternoon. “On Wisconsin.”

Ghost on a Post / Poetry with Third Graders

3/12/2024

This is what I texted to Len this afternoon after I finished the poetry class with third graders. “I’m done and back. The kids were great and I’m a limp washrag, Teaching forty 8-year-olds for 90 minutes is way more energy than Everest.” I then drank half a beer (I NEVER drink in the afternoon) and fell asleep until the Mineral Point afternoon ‘change of shift siren’ shrieked for several minutes. It’s been a full day.

How 2 Write a Poem (3rd grade edition)

3/7/2024

Next week is my Writers Week at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, WI. I won this when my story “How Crow Got Out of Jail” (Read Here) won first prize in the 2023 Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring contest for short fiction.

Winning that contest motivated me to open my Substack account. So far I’ve published 17 stories and only published once twice. (Who noticed that?)

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words A-Z AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent aging Alaska animals anniversary antibiotics antlers apples appointments Arrows art Ashland August Augustine aunts baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barbara Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM Blue BookReport books Boxing Day boy scout Bread breakfast BreakfastClub BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada canoe cat romance cats cello Chicago China Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus climate change clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote crime CrimeShows danger DarkRiver death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering deer democracy dentist depression Destination Today Detroit Didion disasterprep distraction dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Echoes Eclipse election EmilyDickinson eschatology Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer Fata Morgana ferns firealarm Fitness Five Flatbread Flexible flu Food Pantry Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal FrugalHacks Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga fungi fusion Galena Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd gerrymandering ghosts gifts girls GNTL gorgons goulash GovernorThompsonStatePark Graduation grandkids granola Grief groceries Guadalupe Guatemala gum guns Hair happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance hearings heart heaven HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HowCrowGotOutofJail humor hurricane Ice Cream idiosyncrasy igloos impeachment Innkeeper Instincts integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Jan 6 Janus jewelry JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich Jump justice Karen kites ladder Lady Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len lies Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness LouisArmstrong Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens MineralPoint Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mounds mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha NAMI Nancy Drew Newfoundland New Mexico New York City Nomadland nope observation OBUUC Ocotillo OnaJudge ordinary OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples pizza poetry Preaching privacy procrastination Protest QE2 Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism reading recipe recipes recommendations religion Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb Ricky rime RitesofPassage romance Rosemary Ruether Roses Roti Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraKurtz SaraRodriguez satellites sci-fi ScottSimon sculpture Seasons Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spirituality spring square feet St. Louis staining stars stele Stereotypes stories StoryStarts stream monitoring stress SUBSTACK Survival swim Talent taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou therapy ThreeBillBoards Three Thing Three Things ThreeThings TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine Ulysses Grant Umbrella UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam vision VivianWokeUpDrowning Vocabulary vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving Webs wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Wiley Willa WillaCather Wisteria Won! Wonder words Xeriscape Yellowstone Zebra
Ad Promotion