‘Asexual reproduction is the obvious way to replicate: start with one individual, split down the middle, and then you have two, or many. By contrast sexual reproduction is a bizarre and even a perverse way to replicate…The puzzle, in short, is to explain why sex happens; why despite its obvious arithmetical and social drawbacks, it is so common in nature…The answer is that sex has no direct, conceptual connection with replication at all. Sex is not about multiplication. It is about the mixing of genes from different organisms…This may seem like gratuitous complexity but in fact the process operates beautifully to mix the genetic material from each pair of homologous chromosomes, to produce a novel arrangement of chromosomes that is unique to each gamete. No two individuals produced by sexual reproduction are exactly alike.’ The Facts of Life Revisited, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

Celtic Spiral Fingerpad

Identity, drawn on coded iris flower,

engraved on Celtic spiral fingerpad,

prints a genetic name;

uttered this once only

in the whole Universe -

from stars, our dust comes

just this time - molecules

plumbed with warm blood

in a particular union of individuality,

to make this one warring cauldron

of male and female -

this beauty; struggle.

Each breathing creation,

seeming as many as stars;

even among people breeding

like plankton in protein seas -

my whirling pattern

marks me alone -

stamps the archiving world

like a constabulary record -

Catherine wheels spinning skin,

outward and in, inward and out,

as everything goes -

seeming without limit.

My touch is charged,

like the heart of a tree,

with Celtic art – distilled,

living path to the mystery,

of why I am once only -

never ever to be repeated.

Among all People

Among all people that ever were,

ever will be - I am the only one

just like this. I was named at the first,

among unstable stars. My materials

tagged by time; initialed,

my chemistry and letters.

I was there in the dreaming dark;

when light came it was the kiss

of life on my lips -

I can never be again.

Among all animals in the world -

down to the first mammal, worm,

amoeba, I am the only one

just like this - the dancing

of my genes is a tune

nobody else can hear

or understand; every breath

is funding their expression.

I am true art; still being

created - totally unique.

‘This [Volvux’s] is the first advent of inevitable natural death in the animal kingdom and all for the sake of sex.’ Robert Hegner, Zoologist

‘Being the inventor of sex would seem to be a sufficient discinction for a creature just barely large enough to be seen by the naked eye. But… Volvox brought Natural Death as well as Sex into the world. The amoeba and the paramecium are potentially immortal…what memories an amoeba would have, it it had any memory at all! But for Volvux, death seems as inevitable as it is in a mouse or in a man. Volvux must die because it has had children and is no longer needed…’ Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970), The Great Chain of Life, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1957

Humble Volvox inventing sex and death

As animal and plant, my humble green hinge

is emerald gateway to immortality and death -

my paths beyond are mysterious; organic,

yet charged with that immaterial energy -

light among darkness, not yet measured;

understood among men I have nurtured

with my existence. Taking my desire for life,

transmogrified to highest order, in chemicals

authored by love, recurrence, creativity;

life’s understanding of that first light –

I forgot about myself among all these glories -

staying green speck, plumping neither for flora

nor fauna, my name mostly unknown -

in the comings and goings of existence,

I simply twirled in the water, smiling,

enjoying being alive; inventor, cipher,

of such important principles, new ways of being -

going forth, printing life over and over, coaching

love in the worship of holy children, authored,

destined; and afterwards, enjoying being dead,

which I chose, the peace, finish of it - passing

back to that kind of light, existing in darkness.

‘Sex is not about multiplication. It is about the mixing of genes from different organism. The question arises, of course, as to why different organisns should want to mix their genes, and to this there are various answers. The old-fashioned answer is – or was – that by mixing their genes creatures produce an effectively infinite range of new genetic variations, and this enables evolution to proceed much fast than it otherwise would…Tempting though such explanations are, however, they cannot explain why sex evolved in the first place. Such genetic swapping does indeed produce evolutionary benefit – but the benefits are long term…. creatures that required sex for reproduction would still lose out in the short term to creatures that merely replicated themselves asexually, and so produced twice as many offspring per head in a given time. Of course, long term evolution is wonderful, and without it there would be no human beings or elephants or oak trees. But the long term change never comes into being if it is swamped in the short term. Evolutionary change is a serendipity; a useful side-benefit of sex. But it cannot be the driving force behind it. The task, in short, is to explain the short-term benefits of genetic mixing, and here there are two main kinds of proposals. One says that it it is highly beneficial in the short term to produce offspring that resemble the parents (of course) but are also slightly different. Professor Bill Hamilton of Oxford University has suggested that such variation provides short-term benefits against parasites, which would rapidly adapt to creatures that remained completely uniform from generation to generation, but find it hard to get a foothold when the lineage constantly varies. A totally different kind of explanation hinges on the fact that in any one generation there is liable to be a great deal of mutation, but that most mutations are harmful. In sexual reproduction an individual passes only half of his or her genes to each gamete, and some at least of those gametes will be relatively free of harmful mutations. Only the good gametes will survive – those lacking mutations that are too harmful – and by fusing they provide a new generation of offspring that is relatively free of mutations. This idea has been around for a few decades and seems to be growing in popularity. In short, sex did not evolve primarily as a means of replication. It evolved as a means of mixing genes from different individuals – and there do seem to be short-term as well as long term benefits. But is is easy to convert sex into a means of replication. After all, a multicellular creature can produce many gametes, and once these are fused they do indeed form new individuals, and that is clearly a form of multiplication, albeit an arithmetically inefficient one.’ Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

Sex is not designed for pleasure

Sex is not designed for pleasure -

but genetic advantage, insurance;

the thrill is an add-on - carrot,

frill; the embroidery on a dull

practical bag, patiently sewn

for millennia. A decoration,

grown on the bones of time; 

pleasure genetically refined

to an ecstatic moment, starburst,

unconscious surrender to bliss -

strange, done behind closed doors

(mostly) - can be turned to power;

dictatorial force bent, perverted -

turned against its own good cause.

Or dance, becoming art, though

men remembering the caveman

more, driving need just to do it;

and having done so, go to sleep.

Magical Fusion

You are our totem; magical fusion

of two into one - whatever beauty

we possess remains, exaggerates

in you. Your genes, on invisible

strings, are our pearls, scattered;

by an artist creatively re-strung.

If this process of Evolutionary refinement

leads to this small, crumpled hand in mine,

untouchable texture of skin,

how easy to believe in love -

at the beginning among the stars;

refining itself in the blood of life

until such feelings we have now,

where love would have us kneel,

offer our hearts, necks, safety, lives -

fills our eyes with new species of tears.

Note from the author
exploring the project

    Gene Story
    Romantic Science
    Some Special Genes
    X & Y
        Y Chromosome
        SRY Gene – Master Switch
        Sex Wars
        X Chromosome
        Some notes on the
        Gender of Science

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