... on his way to meet another grasshopper, his new best friend, but when he got there he found a locust waiting for him. "Who are you?" he asked. "I'm your new best friend," said the locust, "but I've changed!"
Oh dear, you're probably thinking to yourself, 9.30 in the morning and he's on the dry martinis already! Not at all, sober as a judge, I am, although my mind is reeling somewhat having just read an article by David Dobbs for the Aeon.co site. In it he describes the phenomenon when a grasshopper (or certain grasshoppers) suddenly turns into a locust. Like watching a conjurer's trick we tend to mutter in amazement, "How do they do that?!"
According to the microbiology swots it is all down to 'genetic expression'. Now, it is around this point in the explanation that my brain starts to ache as I grapple with these abstruse concepts. I can understand that cells form themselves in one way rather than another depending on what they 'read' in the genetic code contained in every gene but, I ask myself, do I really understand, or is the anthropomorphic language which is inseparable from this subject actually fooling me? I mean, surely, a cell doesn't 'read' in the sense in which you are reading these words. I assume that what happens is that a series of biochemical reactions take place, that is, something like, A hits B and causes C. There is no 'reading', let alone comprehension, just biochemical action and re-action.
However, according to Mr. Dobbs' explanation, these cells don't behave like I do with my old 'pulp fiction' books which I toss away when I've finished reading, apparently they keep reading and re-reading the code and for some reason they suddenly decide to 'translate' it differently and thus 'express' it differently which causes changes in the body carrying them. As far as I can make out they do this as a result of some outside stimulation such that, suddenly (or even gradually), they stop reading in, say, English and start to read in French - quelle horreure! The result is a change, sometimes quite dramatic, in the behaviour and appearance of the poor old carcass (or, me, as I like to think of it) that is carrying them around - there's gratitude for you! Anyway, all this has put the genetic swots in a tizz but the one good thing to come out of it is that Dawkins' nonsense seems to have taken a hit. My e-pal, Richard, who is a tremendous evolutionary swot, suspects that this sort of extreme metamorphosis has much to do with the arrangement of the genome (rather than any one gene, selfish or otherwise!) which is carried by what he calls, mysteriously, "95% of 'dark' matter"
At that point my brain snapped shut. I put it down to my genes!