ReviewCulture Wars, Big Questions, and Geological Nanoseconds
I remember sitting in my ninth grade biology class, staring at a pickled fetal pig, and learning that birds and mammals have what look like gill slits during early development. This bit of information blew me out of my chair. I once had gill slits! Of course, we now know that ontogeny doesn’t strictly recapitulate phylogeny. The developmental stages of a derivative life form do not play out as the end stages of its various ancestors. The gill slits could never truly become gills. In humans, they close and only one forms the basis for the ear canal. But none of that made any difference to me at fourteen. What a sketchpad development was! Etched into my body was the trial and error of evolution. At some point in my past, I was floating around in my mom like a fish. What do you do with a fact like that? You quit theology, and you study science.
Apurva Narechania works at the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History. He lives in Brooklyn.