Friday, April 16, 2010

Introducing Mutant Biology



I love to read about evolutionary biology, and find investigation of the history on life simply fascinating. Given that, biology is often presented in a dry and catastrophically boring manner. Public school did an incredible job of making science appear as interesting as watching a slug race across a field.

How do you solve that problem? Make the biological history of homo sapiens relateable! Ryan Haupt does a fantastic job of this by relating the topic with the Marvel Comics character Beast AKA Dr. Hank McCoy:

Nine months pass after the aforementioned conception and tiny Hank is born. Even at an early age he looks weird, long arms, big hands and big feet. There actually is a word for this in evolutionary and developmental biology: peramorphosis. This is a condition where species “mature past adulthood.” Hank isn’t a perfect example of this and it’s a hard concept to grip mostly because it’s a rare thing to have happen, but it is possible. The opposite of this is called pedomorphosis, and it’s a bit easier to explain. Pedomorphosis, also called neotony, is when an animal fails to develop a full complement of adult traits. For example: an adult dog is more like a baby wolf than an adult wolf. Some people argue neotony is what happened to Hank but I disagree because at birth he’s more like an adult gorilla than a baby human. He’s a sort of evolutionary throwback with a jumpstart on his own maturation allowing him to become a much bigger stronger and yes, even smarter, adult, if only by virtue of having more initial muscle mass and brain matter to work with than your average human.

Fantastic! When I was growing up, my teachers would send me to the principals office for bringing comic books to science class. If any current or future science teachers are reading this, try making the topic relateable as Haupt so successfully has!

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