Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Mitochondrial Hussie

Every cell of our bodies has a mitochondrion, an organelle that turns food into energy. This little item is so novel that many scientists say it couldn't have evolved with in the primitive biology of the single-celled organisms in which it is believed to have originated. Perhaps, my biology teacher said, one came about by pure chance in the chemical soup of the primordial world and was swallowed by a greedy single-cell organism ate it, which assimilated rather than digested it when it proved to be so handy around the office. Regardless, mitochondria stuck around, and you’ve got one in every cell of your body. Mitochondria have their own DNA, unique from the DNA of the majority of the human body. Most mitochondria are inherited from the mother, allowing us to trace back lineage of all human beings to one common ancestor, who lived approximately 150,000 years ago. She has been dubbed the “Mitochondrial Eve,” in the hopes of making Christian fundamentalists' heads explode. However, she was not the only woman at that time - it would have been very impractical, and you can only use the "I've got a headache" excuse so many times to a continent of primitive men. It is merely that her progeny thrived and replicated where those of the Mitochondrial Lilith, Mitochondrial Gertrude and Mitochondrial Emily Dickinsons were too busy gossiping and writing poetry. It's also interesting that the earliest common male mitochondrial DNA-ancestor we can trace back to lived about 90,000 years ago, separating the Mitochondrial Adam and Eve by about 60,000 years - a long distance relationship of Biblical proportions. What happened in those 60,000 years? We can't be sure, but the gap suggests that lesbianism was much more creative back then.

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