A Blog Around The Clock

i-710d005c8660d36282911838843a792d-ClockWeb logo2.JPGAccording to the referrers pages of my Sitemeter, a lot of you are excited by strange penises, strange penises, strange penises and strange penises (or something like it). So, today we have to move to a different topic, traffic-be-damned, for those without phallic fixations. So, read on (first posted on July 21, 2006)….

If science is all you care for you can skip to the bottom of the post because the main character of today’s story will be introduced with a poem (also found here):

The Conjugation of the Paramecium
by Muriel Rukeyser

This has nothing
to do with
propagating

The species
is continued
as so many are
(among the smaller creatures)
by fission

(and this species
is very small
next in order to
the amoeba, the beginning one)

The paramecium
achieves, then,
immortality
by dividing

But when
the paramecium
desires renewal
strength another joy
this is what
the paramecium does:

The paramecium
lies down beside
another paramecium

Slowly inexplicably
the exchange
takes place
in which
some bits
of the nucleus of each
are exchanged

for some bits
of the nucleus
of the other

This is called
the conjugation of the paramecium.

Sounds like textbook prose to me, but what do I know about modern poetry….
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So, instead of a charismatic vertebrate you may have expected, we are going to dip into the myterious Kingdom of Protista. Paramecium caudatum, also known as Silverslipper, is a pretty typical member of the group of Ciliata, and as the poem correctly indicates, most of the time it reproduces by simple cell division – fission. But, let’s now take a quick look at the strange – and a little bit less frequent – process of conjugation in the Paramecium, just a sinmple textbook rendition without too many nitty-gritty details.
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Each individual has one large cell nucleus – Macronucleus – and one small nucleus – Micronucleus. Once the two individual silverslippers line up with each other and make contact, the micronucleus undergoes meiosis resulting in four micronuclei in each of the two cells. While the initial micronucleus is diploid (two copies of the chromosomes), the resulting four micronuclei are haploid (a single copy of the chromosomes).

Next, three of the four micronuclei degenerate and teh material is digested by the cell. The remaining micronucleus in each silverslipper divides once again, but this time by mitosis, resulting in two haploid micronuclei in each of the two cells.
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By the time this has occured, most of the cell membrane dividing the two cells is gone. For all practical purposes, this is just one cell. The two halves (originally two cells) then exchange one of their micronuclei. Each partner retains one of its original nuclei, gives away the other one and receives the equivalent from the partner.

After this, the cell membrane between the two halves gets rebuilt and the two cells separate again. The two micronuclei (one original and one new) fuse into a single diploid micronucleus. Now the big one, the Macronucleus, disintegrates and gtes digested by the cell enzymes. At the same time, the micronucleus divides by mitosis to produce two identical diploid micronuclei in each sliverslipper individual. One of the micronuclei then becomes the real micronucleus while the other one grows and becomes the new Macronucleus.
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Thus, the genes have been exchanged equally by both individuals. In some instances, the conjugation is not equal – there may be one donor and one recepient – the latter being an individual without a micronucleus to begin with.

You can see some great photographs of the whole process here.

So, to summarize, two bodies become one. Two souls (if silverslippers have souls) become one. And each partner comes out of the experience profoundly changed!

This is no drunken hook-up. This is no one-night stand with a stranger. This is more than a passionate quickie. This is better than a fun frolic with a friend with benefits. This is the real spiritual thing. If this is not love, what is?

Comments

  1. #1 themadlolscientist
    May 13, 2008

    =LOL= Paramecium pr0n! Paramecia have been my favorite kind of microlife ever since I first learned about them when I was 7 or 8 years old. Way cooler than globby old amoebas!

    (Volvox, which I first heard of around the same time, is a close second – and it has nothing to do with its sounds-vaguely-like-pr0n name [really! I mean it!], I just like their shape and their see-through “pregnancies.”)