Saturday, March 20, 2010

Inspiration

I wrote a post yesterday, but it really wasn't meant to fill the weekly inspiration post. This week, in addition to continuing the book of Bosch's paintings, I've started reading Adam's Curse by Bryan Sykes. I deeply enjoyed his book The Seven Daughters of Eve a number of years ago--it explores mitochondrial DNA, which we inherit from our mothers and they from their mothers, etc., only changed by random mutation, so they can tell us fascinating things about human history. He brings it alive by identifying the seven most common of those for people of European descent and speculating about when and where the common maternal ancestor of each group might have lived and what their lives would have been like. Fascinating stuff.

Adam's Curse, then, looks at the Y chromosome, which also is inherited unchanged except by mutation, though in this case from the paternal line. (Obviously.) From the cover copy and some of the introduction, it seems it will focus more on the future rather than the past. I think I've seen some articles that were published soon after the book came out challenging the idea that males will go extinct, but that's eventually where the arguments of the book are heading. I haven't reached that part of the book yet, though. So far it's been some anecdotes of the author's life and a look at the history of our understanding of how chromosomes work and how sex is determined. It doesn't have quite the same wow-factor, but it's been interesting.

One thing that might be of interest to writers who like steampunk is that a lot of the details of how genes are transmitted by chromosomes were known already in the 19th century, and much more could have been known if certain people had shared observations. Understanding the double helix structure and certainly sequencing the genome would be a big stretch (but then some of those kinds of stretches are often the point of steampunk, since a lot of the supposed technology is intentionally anachronistic), but if you're into the mad scientist streak within steampunk, there's still a lot you could do and not worry about drawing too much on more recent discoveries.

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