‘The Volvox … is a freshwater organism, visible to the naked eye as a green speck about the size of a pinhead. It is indetermimately both plant and animal: zoologists class it among protozoa, and botanists among algae. Its reproductive cells are differentiated from its other cells, a fact considered significant in tracing the evolution of higher animals from protozoa.’ Faber Book of Science, 2005

‘[Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)] saw Volvox yielding to one of its two remarkable inventions – natural (or inevitable) Death. The other half of the strange story eluded him completely. He did not know that after a few generations have been vegetavely reproduced by the process he observed there comes a generation that will produce eggs which must be fertlised by sperm before they can develop… during the vast stretches of time which have been his, routes were open at one time or another from every part of the earth to every other part…If only the fit survive and if the fitter they are they longer they survive, then Volvox must have demonstrated its superb fitness more concusively than an higher animal ever has.’ Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970),  The Great Chain of Life, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1957

‘Volvox looks…when motionless less like a plant-animal than like some sort of jeweler’s work intended, perhaps, as an earring. The surface of the crystal sphere is set with hundreds of tiny emeralds; its interior contains five or six larger emeralds disposed with careless effectiveness. But volvox is seldom motionless when alive and in good health. Bright as a jewel, intricate as a watch, and mobile as a butterfly, his revolutions bring one emerald after another into a position where they sparkle in the light…he seems to turn on an invisible axis, much as the planets do…There is something majestic and, one might almost imagine, irresisitible about his revolutions – again, like those of a planet. One half expects to hear some music of the spheres. Because the microscope has temporarily abolished the barrier of size which separates the universe of Vovlox from my own, I enter temporarily into a dreamlike relationship with him, though he is unaware of my world and perhaps equally unaware of his own… When I lift my head from the microscope the dream vanishes. But it is man and his consciousness which is really the fleeting dream. Volvox, or something very much like him, was leading his surprisingly complex life millions of years before man’s dream began and may well continue to do so for millions of years after the dream ends. Harder to realize is the fact that the enterprise and adventures of Volvox typify certain of the innovations and inventions which are casually summed up in the word ‘evolution’ and hence constituted some of the earliest and most essential steps towards making possible our dream.’ Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970), The Great Chain of Life, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1957


Encrypted in emerald green -

solution, mystery, at a point

of understanding; Evolution’s

unbelievable dream, ambition -

inventing death, sex - branching

from this unassuming, sparkling

root, revolving as if still in space;

a tiny star fallen. Animal and plant,

surviving clue; physical represention

of theory, so simple and magnificent -

as a physical egg is equation manifest.

No wonder Joseph Wood Krutch

recognised Volvox as the superior

dreamer - from first emerald cells

imagining heart, hand, eyes, man;

while still surviving intact, here -

over and over repeated - what more

might he be dreaming in the water;

green seed, sparkling plant-animal -

restless with creation still - all this,

even, never enough, for that drum

of life still beats, and he must dance.

He dances, Volvox, such understanding

of essential steps, creature/plant wizard,

his next revolution will bring the flower

to mind, for his next trick, hands touching

at dusk for the first time - lips before sex

he invented - but could just take or leave

for reasons sublime, mysterious, hidden

always. Why leave the water, her words,

when everything else he simply foresaw

in chemistries, possibilities - outcomes

of green cell messages interpreted thus,

or like that; manipulation of millennia,

foresight, prediction – organic/psychic

dreaming of matter, molecular creativity,

singular colour - in spectacular process.

Fittest of all, he has made flesh galaxies  

from his small green star - his tinkering,

plasticity. Volvox the Artist, original root

preserved, still living; how many holy things

are still with us, as humble as this protozoa -

animal-algae gluing two worlds within worlds,

intersecting spheres - supreme green inventor

on the head of a pin, unlikely as Earth in space.

‘The other grinning relic is the chloroplast…small bodies in plant cells that do the business of photosynthesis – storing solar energy by using it to synthesise organic molecules…chloroplasts are responsible for the green colour of plants. It is now widely agree that they are descended from the photosynthetic bacteria…the process of photosynthesis is the same in these bacteria and in [the cholorplasts of] eukaryotes.Sir David Smith, The Cell as a Habitat, 1979

‘And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.’ Genesis 1, The Bible

Goodbye to becoming the lion

Goodbye to becoming the lion, tiger, monkey;

rubbing magnificent fur on dusty sun-ground.

Adieu manipulation of tools into art; touching

another - shells into homes, cathedrals, heart

protection. So long knowing the actual feel -

from the present-tense experience of opening

your head, being a flower under summer;

His Magnificence the Banana Leaf, fruit

plumping under jungle sun, ecstatic blown

dandelion - all this will yet come, happen

from these cells, processes, mechanisms, ripples

revealed from the ever-imagining soul of water -

happy in solution. Look, his work is done,

leaving him to swim sleepily, still dream. 

‘The predominant colour of volvox is green; the green looks like chlorophyll; and so it is. Morevover volvox can be ‘cultured’ in a purely chemical solution. All this suggests a plant rather than an animal but biologists have decided that the classification is meaningless at this level. Both textbooks of zoology and textbooks of botany usually claim volvox, and there are no hard feelings because zoologists and botanists agree that Volvo represents a stage of evolution at which plants have not diverged from animals. He is either the one or the other. Or, more properly, he is neither. He is not plant or animal… the ‘guess’ that volvox represents a stage in the development of the ‘higher’ multicelluar animals and suggests how the transition was made is more immediately persuasive than many of the other guesses biology feels compelled to make.' Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970), The Great Chain of Life, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1957

‘Thus, next after lifeless things in the upward scale comes the plant, and of plants one will differ from another as to its amount of apparent vitality; and, in a word, the whole genus of plants, whilst it is devoid of life as compared with an animal, is endowed with life as compared with other corporeal entities. Indeed, as we just remarked, there is observed in plants a continuous scale of ascent towards the animal. So, in the sea, there are certain objects concerning which one would be at a loss to determine whether they be animal or vegetable. For instance, certain of these objects are fairly rooted, and in several cases perish if detached; thus the pinna is rooted to a particular spot, and the solen (or razor-shell) cannot survive withdrawal from its burrow. Indeed, broadly speaking, the entire genus of testaceans have a resemblance to vegetables, if they be contrasted with such animals as are capable of progression.… And so by the occurrence of modification in minute organs it comes to pass that one animal is terrestrial and another aquatic, in both senses of these terms.’ The History of Animals, Aristotle, 350 BC





Note from the author
exploring the project

    Gene Zoo
        Now we understand
    Gene Garden
    Earth Poems

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