Sunday, November 4, 2007

November Kickabout in Mendel's Garden

Welcome to Mendel's garden, and a fine day it is for some lovely genetics. And a game of football (you know, that game in which you move the ball with your foot, not that other no doubt worthy but definitely misnamed "throwball" game.) Hey, if philosophers can play, so can geneticists.


I'm here because I love genetics and football, but why have our other participants turned out? Matt Mealiffe MD is here because there's nothing worth watching on TV. Live results of genetic tests for breast cancer susceptibility really are a new low in televised entertainment, and going outside to play is a much more sensible way to spend your time.

Wenchypoo is here for the health benefits of exercise. Knowing your family's history of potentially genetic disease, and passing that information on to your kids, makes perfect sense in a world where health care is not universal. Good diet and lots of exercise are great ways to minimise the effects of any unhealthy genetic programming. If all else fails, we can always hope that the recent advances in biological data mining that David Hamilton has been telling us about will fulfill their promise of a better understanding of cancer and other diseases.

So that's one vote for football-better-than-TV, and one vote for exercise. Does no-one else want to share? Fair enough. Eric Michael Johnson points out that a person's involvement in processes such as voting may be genetically determined, so we shouldn't blame ourselves too much. The motivation to participate in democratic processes may be a byproduct of our evolved ability to co-operate with others, so it will be interesting to see whether the people that spoke up just now will make better team players.

It's getting cold out, so let's get this game started! It's Mendel's garden, so we'll let him kick off, even though I'm the only one who thought to bring a ball. (Luigi Guarino brought beer though. What a star! We're all very appreciative that barley, like some other crop and livestock species, was domesticated multiple times by our ancestors.) The maverick monk gets us started, and he's showing some nifty footwork for a religious man. Not quite the Hand of God, but some divine ball skills nonetheless. But the local favourite runs into a cloud of fruit flies and loses sight of the ball. He doesn't look too happy, in fact he seems to be taking the non-Mendelian mode of Drosophila transposon inheritance a wee bit personally.

There's always someone who brings a dog, and today it's Archaeozoo. The dog takes the ball from the feet of the confused Mendel, and he's off! Ha ha, how cute, very funny, give us the bloody ball back will you? But that there dog is descended from wolves who continued to interbreed with his ancestors for generations, and he's got a bit of a wild streak. The game comes to a grinding halt, resuming only after two puncture wounds are bandaged up and the dog is safely tied to a tree.

Greg Laden cues up the ball for the restart and plays a nice ball into the box. He's a very creative player, this one - or is he just reassembling existing moves into something that looks more creative than it is? Kind of like Craig Venter and artificial life? Hmmm. Let's just admire Greg's contribution to the beautiful game and leave the big questions to the philosophers on the next field over.

Eric picks up Greg's pass and plays a nice little one-two with David. He turns on a dime in the box. He shoots, he scores! 1-0. What a great demonstration of teamwork and inter-primate co-operation. Our intrepid goalie, Grrl Scientist, protests that she was distracted by a gang of wasps who were showing their own kind of co-operation and scaring the bejeesus out of her and the rest of the defense. Wasps have evolved group maternal and reproductive behaviour, switching between the two as their gene expression patterns change, and now they've evolved the ability to disrupt major international sporting events. They're worse than the bloody fruit flies. Maybe a garden is not the best place for this game.

The goal stands, regardless of insect interference, and the game resumes with a renewed passion as the other team tries to make amends. Dr Matt passes back to Grrl, who feeds the ball out to Luigi. Luigi nutmegs Mad Hatter - apparently defending against this feisty forward is almost as difficult as playing whac-a-mole with the constantly evolving polio virus - and threads the ball through to Wenchy, who's in acres of space.

Sudip Ghosh makes an impressive sliding tackle that gets the ball but unfortunately knocks Wenchy over. It looks like he may have mistaken Wenchy for James Watson, but instead of getting a Nobel prize rescinded, all he achieves is a free kick for the opposing team. Wenchy takes a shot at goal, it looks good, oooohhhh! Jesus saves, but I score on the rebound. 1-1.

That goal seems to have taken the competitive edge out of the game, and it's all gone a bit flat here in Mendel's garden. A few missed passes and long waits for the ball to be retrieved from behind the pea plants are making everyone feel that November cold and start thinking about the after-match hot chocolate.

But wait - Greg Laden has the ball again! The man from Minnesota is making maneuvers and heading for goal. Ohhhh, but he got distracted by some birds messing about in the pea plants. Avian adulterers might go for the best-looking mates, but that's no excuse for taking your eyes off the ball.

Luckily for Greg's team, Mendel picks up the ball in midfield (midgarden?) and gives us another glimpse of that magic footwork. He's round Matt, he's round Wenchy, he's bearing down on an open goal... but if I stretch and put in a sliding tackle, I can juuuuust put a toe on it... the ball careens off, Mendel goes flying, and ball and monk each take out a whole row of pea plants. Oh no! Decades of work ruined - who's going to be the father of modern genetics now? - and Mendel's gone off in a huff. Hey, don't look at me like that, it was a fair challenge.

Well, if you're going to be like that, I'm going home. And I'm taking my ball with me. Game over.


Rematch in December at
The Inoculated Mind.

4 comments:

  1. What a great carnival! Thanks for including my post. I a bit ashamed to admit that, despite having grown up in a country that watches "real" football, I'm a little fuzzy on the terminology--when Luigi "nutmeged" me, what exactly happened?!

    And by the way, there is kicking in American football. It's what happens when the "throwball" and "runball" parts aren't going well and the team has to punt. :-)

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  2. Thanks for letting me get up off my housewife couch and stroll through Mendel's Garden...you have some quite lovely things growing here.

    It just goes to show you what you CAN learn when you watch the right TV shows--the end of the need for health care as we know it was right there on PBS, and I feel like I'm the only one who watched!

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  3. Mad Hatter - it means he poked the ball between your legs and ran round to collect it on the other side. Very tricky maneuver.

    I have no idea why it's called a nutmeg.

    I've seen a couple of Canadian "football" games so I've seen those kicks, but it doesn't seem to be a major part of the game from what I've seen. Is the US version different? Give me rugby any day of the week though. Best game on Earth.

    Wenchypoo, you are very welcome! I don't watch PBS half as much as I should but they have some good stuff on there.

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  4. You're right--kicking is only a significant part of an American football game when a team's offense is struggling. So, kicking is not something to aspire to in this game....

    I haven't seen a Canadian football game, but I'd assume the rules are the same as US ones. Haven't seen a rugby game before either. I'll have to try it sometime!

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