Thursday, December 6, 2007

You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Kingdoms or Planets

Would you scientist-type people stop changing the rules, already? You can't just go around and add new divisions of life and take planets away and then just expect people to, you know, be informed and stuff.

I am a very confused librarian today, and it's all because I fell asleep to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire yesterday.

I slept very restlessly on the couch for a few hours yesterday after school was cancelled; I am still taking cold medicine, and it does weird things to my sleep stages and makes me incorporate everything I hear while asleep into some crazy half-asleep, half-awake lucid-dreaming hallucinations. I don't need to try 'shrooms; I am pretty sure I get the same effect napping on Sudafed.

I know that while I was sleeping everyone's least favorite trivia game show came on, and there was some question about the classification system biologists use to organize life, and some neglected part of my brain that hasn't been exercised since 9th-grade biology class started chanting, "Kingdom! Phyllum! Class! Order! Family! Genus! Species!" to the remains of my consciousness, and I couldn't get that little voice to shut up. I was jolted fully awake a short time later by Drew Carey telling the first contestant on The Price is Right to come on down, and sat bolt upright on the couch yelling, "Kingdom! Phyllum! Class! Order! Family! Genus! Species!" to no one in particular. Good thing no one was around to commit me.

But as happens so often do right after waking from a dream, bits and pieces of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire sequence started coming back to me. I could remember that I kept willing the contestant to answer with the "kingdom" choice, but when the answer was given, the correct answer was something else. A word I'd heard before, but never in the context of the classification of life. And the sad thing is, I couldn't even remember the question or the word that ended up being the correct answer. But since I'm a librarian, and maybe a little obsessive-compulsive, and because I couldn't get the whole "Kingdom! Phyllum! Class!..." mantra out of my head (thank you very much, Mr. Blankenbaker, something you taught us has stuck with me through adult-hood), I had to investigate a little this morning after things quieted down at work.

Did you all know that kingdom is no longer the highest classification? When I did a trusty Google search for "biology kingdom", I came across this little Wikipedia article. Now I know you aren't supposed to trust Wikipedia without investigating, so I have and it looks like some guy named Carl Woese proposed a 3 domain classification system back in 1990, and most contemporary American biology textbooks break life down in this way. And not only that, but instead of the 5 kingdoms I was taught (of which, in my stupor yesterday as I was trying to recall my "dream", I could only remember "plants", "animals", "single-celled organisms", and "two other groups that my teacher didn't spend a lot of time on, which may or may not include bacteria"), under this 3-domain thing there are 6 kingdoms. Whoa.

Those of you who took biology in college are probably going, "Duh, moron." But the last time I studied biology (and I'll have you know I got an A+, thank you very much) was the 1988/1989 school year. I opted for psychology as my life science in college, and apparently, I missed out.

If this is news to you, and you're still reading because you find this post remotely interesting, this site does a better job than the Wikipedia article about explaining the 3-domain system. As with many aspects of my life this week, it all boils down to bacteria. The 6th kingdom is "archaebacteria", which are those extreme organisms that aren't structured like any other life form and which can survive in the harshest places on earth, places where until the last couple of decades it was thought no life could exist. Pretty heavy stuff. Though I keep picturing "extreme" organisms as little mohawk-sporting, snow-boarding, bungi-jumping creatures who say "dude" and "wicked" a lot.

I had just gotten used to the idea of Pluto no longer being a planet, and now this whole "domain" and "6 kingdoms" thing invades my brain. For someone who nearly had a nervous breakdown in a summer astronomy class while trying to wrap my head around the concept of "nothing" before the Big Bang (I actually asked my GSP roommate, "But what color was the nothingness? If I can't see it, I can't understand it!"), this is hard to get.

Yes, I am a total nerd. Yes, I need a real life. Yes, I will go back to blogging about my kid's power poops.

1 comment:

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