Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why I Listen to Trees


Poplar Trees
It just stands to reason that higher forms of life are more complex than “lower” forms of life.

One way to guess the intelligence and complexity of an organism is to look at how many genes it has in its genome. It just stands to reason that simple forms of life don’t need as many genes and more complex forms.

For example, the virus that causes mononucleosis has a measly 80 genes (sorry for the pun, but measles are viruses, too).

A fruit fly has 13,379 genes, fewer than a round worm which has approximately 21,000 genes.

A mouse has about 23,000 genes.

We humans have approximately 25,000 genes. I think that puts us pretty near the top of the animal kingdom. I don’t know about whales and dolphins. Maybe we better not find out.

What about plants?

Rice has about 28,000 genes.

A cottonwood tree? 45,000 genes.

That’s why I listen to trees.

They might have something worthwhile to say to us....



More about the mononucleosis virus: Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)

More about the fruit fly: Drosophila melanogaster
  
More about human genes: Here

24 comments:

Paul C said...

That's the tenth good reason for listening to trees... I wonder if there is some convenient chart which lists a number of species and their gene count. This post is most interesting.

steven said...

dan i didn't know this. i listen to trees because they have good stories. sometimes their silence is a good story all on its own. steven

Sabio Lantz said...

Cute ! So much for intelligence and gene numbers. Actually, I think present understandings of genes (protein generating structures) has altered as we found that the "junk" in DNA is not junk but instead allows existing genes to express themselves in multitude of ways.

Nonetheless, I am not sure intelligence goes with protein expressions potential anyway.

But last night, I took my children, sat against our favorite tree and watched the sun set. The tree empowered the beauty -- I am thankful no matter how intelligent that tree may be ! :-)

PS - thank you for adding e to your blog list, I add thee to mine! Gassho/Salaam

Dan Gurney said...

Paul, I don't know if there is such a list. The closest I came in a cursory google yielded the numbers I cite here. I do find it astonishing (sort of) that plants have so many genes. But then the closer you look at plants the more astonishing they are and more intelligent they seem to be, if intelligence can be conceived of more broadly than the ability to fill out a bubble on an answer sheet.

Dan Gurney said...

steven, yes, silence can be a great story too. Trees don't speak English, but they do communicate a lot of love. A lot of love. Before their love comes across, i gotta listen for a long time and get pretty quiet though. trees don't shout.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Sabio. Yeah, I saw that there's supposed to be "junk" DNA. We tend to denigrate what don't understand. Reading about "junk" DNA I became skeptical and was reminded of Richard Henry Dana calling the California Gray Whales Devilfish. Apparently those mama whales didn't like whalers sticking harpoons in their babies. Imagine. What devils!

Whether intelligence and gene counts correlate I have no idea. Maybe not. Maybe yes. I'll consider it possible. Can't you hear the viruses laughing?

I think that tree last night might have been whispering something to you and your kids....

Thank you for your blog. It's a good read.

Bonnie said...

I always suspected I was gene deficient when I stood next to a tree!

Sabio Lantz said...

Hey Dan.
You said, "We tend to denigrate what we don't understand."
How true! How sad!
I am watching "Earthlings" as I blog. My family raises, slaughters and eats chickens. We kill plants in our garden for food. And I hack down trees with a chain saw.
I do this with thankfulness, gratitude and always a little regret for being a necessary part of the consuming world called "life".

When I can share a "whisper" with a tree and the sun set, I am thankful. I can offer no more.

Linda Myers said...

Plus, trees get rid of all their leaves once a year. And then they replenish their wardrobe every spring. No clutter or unnecessaries for them.

The Pollinatrix said...

How very interesting, and not surprising at all. Thanks for sharing.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Bonnie. I never imagined that trees might have more genes than animals. I've drunk the "if-they're-like-me-they-must-be-pretty-advanced-life-form" Kool Aid. I don't think that anymore.

If someone asked me to turn soil, water, and sunlight into wood leaves and fruit, I'd only answer, "get real." Trees perform magic far, far, far beyond our powers, don't they?

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Sabio,

I just saw the trailer of Earthlings via the link you provided in your comment (how do you make links go in comments like that?).

Oh, my!! I just barely made it through the trailer. My heart is quivering, my knees are shaking. Literally. I don't know if I could watch the whole show. Maybe they put all the gore in those few minutes.

I'm reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer right now. It's also somewhat strong stuff and related. Being alive does tend to make us feel both grateful and regretful. Being awake, being here, now, is what is required of us. And mindfulness does fill us with gratitude.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Linda, yes. And some trees (eucalyptus, manzanita, others) shed bark as well. Trees are producers; we are consumers. I'll bet trees are happier than we.

Dan Gurney said...

Polli, I was surprised at first to learn this about trees. I still go around with a mouselike view that it's a pretty big deal to walk, dig, and be warm. I have to remember trees do deeper magic than we can even imagine.

Kathleen Cain said...

Thanks for keeping us mindful of this important link between science & just listening...also, the (black) cottonwood tree is the first tree to have its genome sequenced...kind of like the "white mice/mouse" of the tree world. The trees know everything, don't they?

Kathleen Cain, author
The Cottonwood Tree: An American Champion
Johnson Books/Big Earth Publishing.
Boulder, CO: 2007

Dan Gurney said...

Kathleen, thanks for commenting! It's so nice to hear from someone who knows a whole lot more about this than I do. Wow. Yes, I think trees are WAY smarter than we even suspect.

Reya Mellicker said...

One time in a group trance it occurred to a bunch of us that the tree is the common deity among all species. It is the shape all living beings contain within and the shape of much of what is without. I love trees and listen to them carefully. They're so smart.

So are you!

Dan Gurney said...

Thanks, Reya, and so are you!!

Cathrine said...

come visit my trees :-) ?

jeanne leigh said...

In the last 10 years I have felt a special connection to trees. I feel they speak to me not in words but I am touched in my emotions by them. The larger, older trees especially seem to have wisdom from the life they have lived and survived on this planet. I love them and appreciate their beauty. I knew none of this about the amount of genes they have. Very interesting. Thanks, JLD

Dan Gurney said...

Sure, Cathrine. You live where?

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Jeanne. Glad you enjoyed the post. I didn't know about the many genes of trees either. But getting to know them better, I'm not so surprised.

Sabio Lantz said...

I hope that my comment above shows that I LOVE trees. But the responses to this post inspired me recall a Zen experience I had and to post on it here. I think the post illustrates how varied the mental constitutions are among us. Please don't read it if you are sensitive about the Zen tradition or about trees.

Dan Gurney said...

I am sensitive about both, but was not offended by your post at all. I enjoyed it actually. Thank you for commenting, Sabio.