American comedian, Steven Wright, said that when someone asked him, “how’s your life?” he answered, “I’m not sure; I don’t really have anything to compare it with.” Maybe that’s one of the reasons we don’t often think about how amazing life is: it’s all we know. Here I’m not talking about the amazingness of any particular life, but rather life in general. For you to read this, billions of (more or less) independent cells have to work together, after spending years arranging themselves into a structure that you can most likely recognise in a mirror. And this design has emerged from a staggering number of variants, because life is a great experimenter. But all this diversity is based around the same set of fabulously successful chemical compound and reactions, from bacteria so small you can fit many millions on a pin-head, to blue whales that would make a stadium-sized aquarium look like a goldfish bowl.
Over the last few centuries in particular, we’ve learned an awful lot about how living things work, but don’t believe anyone who says we know all there is to know! There are still plenty of questions waiting for the right minds to think about them and the right tools to study them.
Bioscience opens up new layers of wonder and complexity with every discovery, and I love all that stuff, but there’s more to biology than white-coated folks locked away in labs. Bioscience has been going in one form or another since the first people learned what happens when you stick a seed in the ground, mix certain foodstuffs together and heat them, and even – under certain conditions – let them “go off” in a way that actually preserves them instead of poisoning you. So one of my aims here is to take science out of the lab and introduce a few ways to play with it and investigate further yourself. What better places to start, then, than the garden and the kitchen?
Over the next month or so, we’ll be looking at how you can experiment with growing (and maybe eating) plants, no matter how small your home might be, and how microscopic organisms can transform foods in helpful and tasty ways. We’ll also be looking at the emerging “citizen scientist” movement.
But there will also be plenty of tasty tidbits of new research and anything I find that excites me, basically, to keep the inspiration flowing.
Expect to hear maniacal cries of IT’S ALIVE echoing around The Edge in the coming months.