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Biology

  • We are a sad lot, the cell biologists; like the furtive collectors of stolen art, we are forced to be lonely admirers of spectacular architecture, exquisite symmetry, dramas of violence and death, nobility, self-sacrifice and, yes, rococo sex.

  • All cell biologists are condemned to suffer from an incurable secret sorrow: the size of the objects of their passion. Almost anyone with an obsession can share it with someone else. ... But those of us enamored of the cell must resign ourselves to the perverse, lonely fascination of a human being for things invisible to the naked human eye.

  • Ah, the architecture of this world. Amoebas may not have backbones, brains, automobiles, plastic, television, Valium or any other of the blessings of a technologically advanced civilization; but their architecture is two billion years ahead of its time. The amoeba had the architectural ideas of R. Buckminster Fuller before there was anyone around capable of having an idea.

  • ... sex is important. Aside from its recreational and entertainment possibilities, it has considerable biological significance. The biological significance was there first; the entertainment value came only recently.

  • A single cell can have everything except fire, and intellectually I like that thought a lot. Emotionally, I feel that cells have done too much. They seem to have accomplished everything we pride ourselves on, but they did it two billion years ago. Granted, their pexicysts are not exactly SAMs or ICBMs, but they're not bad at all for something without a brain and without hands, and they do what is needed without contaminating the environment.

  • The evolution of cell societies parallels that of human societies: there has been a constant movement toward specialization of the members of the society.

  • Whenever a rich variety exists within a biological community, the community has a good chance of remaining stable.

  • All the giant silkworm family, the Ios and lunas she admired, did their eating as caterpillars and as adult moths had no mouths. What mute, romantic extravagance, Lusa thought: a starving creature racing with death to scour the night for his mate.

  • [Cells] make wise decisions and act upon them.

    • Barbara McClintock,
    • Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in E.L. Konigsburg, "Starting With a Knob on the Short Arm of Chromosome Nine," The Nobel Prize Annual ()
  • None of the three great apes is considered ancestral to modern man, Homo sapiens, but they remain the only other type of extant primate with which human beings share such close physical characteristics. From them we may learn much concerning the behavior of our earliest primate prototypes, because behavior, unlike bones, teeth, or tools, does not fossilize.

  • Man is the only mammal whose normal method of locomotion is to walk on two legs. A pattern of mammal behavior that emerges only once in the whole history of life on earth takes a great deal of explaining.

  • Considering the very close genetic relationship that has been established by comparison of biochemical properties of blood proteins, protein structure and DNA, and immunological responses, the differences between a man and a chimpanzee are more astonishing than the resemblances.

  • Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics; it also grows on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones. ... It is a resurrection engine. A single clump of mosses can lie dormant and dry for forty years at a stretch, and then vault back again into life with a mere soaking of water.

  • Moss is inconceivably strong. Moss eats stone; scarcely anything, in return, eats moss. Moss dines upon boulders, slowly but devastatingly, in a meal that lasts for centuries. Given enough time, a colony of moss can turn a cliff into gravel, and turn that gravel into topsoil.

  • Hormones are nature's three bottles of beer.