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Paul Hartal


They Come in Seven Sexes


An old wing of the university
housed the laboratory.
She passed through a narrow corridor
oozing the autumn moisture
of the morning rain.

She put on a white polyester coat,
adjusted her seat and then
placed the Tetrahymena
under the microscope.

“What are you doing? ”
asked suddenly a baritone voice.
Ruth looked up surprised
and saw Tom, a doctoral student
of anatomy, standing next to her.

“Oh, I do some research
on this tiny critter”, she said.
It is a single-celled animal
from the Protozoa family,
called Tetrahymena, a biologist’s
humble workhorse.”

“How can you be interested in
such a primitive creature? ” Tom asked.
“It must be a very boring object
of investigation.”

“On the contrary.
This miniscule organism
is a fascinating creature
possessing astonishing attributes.
To insiders it offers more poetry
than your brain could imagine.”

“And why is that? ” Tom said.
His face wore a skeptical countenance.

“Well, mind you, in the 1950s
scientists discovered that
in many ways the battle of genders
among these cilia covered
little critters is far more complex
than among humans.”

“This is hard to believe”, Tom said.

“Yes, indeed. But imagine
that the Tetrahymena has
seven sexes to choose from.”

“You must be kidding.”

“Not at all. This is an established
scientific fact”, Ruth said.
“And the amazing story of
the Tetrahymena does not end
or start with the mystery of sex,
because this Lilliputian animal
also provides us with
compelling evidence about
the unity of all life on this planet.”

“And how is that? ”

“All life forms on Earth,
Including flowers, trees, amoebas,
Jellyfish, birds, tigers and you,
share a common setup:
They all combine amino acids
to make proteins and store
genetic information by using
deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA
molecules in encoding
the universal genetic code
by the same amino acids.”

“This leaves me quite indifferent”,
said Tom with a grin.
“I would get more excited if you
had informed me, for example,
that your critter can laugh and cry.”

“Well, as a matter of fact
perhaps it can. After all,
the Tetrahymena produces insulin,
acetylcholine, and endorphins,
as well as other neuropeptides
that we humans have
In our bodies. Thus, this primitive
One-celled organism
and we humans
share the same
informational molecules.
Now, bear in mind,
that communication,
information exchange through
neurotransmitter peptides,
occur in similar ways
in all living organisms by means
of electrochemical processes,
by molecules of emotion.
This implies
that this one-celled critter,
similarly to us, also can be sad,
or excited and happy.'

Submitted: Sunday, July 14, 2013
Edited: Friday, July 19, 2013

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

This poem is based on serious scientific research.

For further reading:

1. Kathleen Collins, Editor, “Tetrahymena Thermophila”, Volume 109 (Methods in Cell Biology) , Academic Press,2012
2. Candace B. Pert, PhD, “Molecules of Emotion”, New York: Touchstone,1999

Comments about this poem (They Come in Seven Sexes by Paul Hartal )

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  • Freshman - 1,188 Points Kanniappan Kanniappan (10/29/2013 2:16:00 AM)

    Wonderful poetry with scientific significance and information on the tiny creature, Paramecium, not only for Tom but for us also. (Report) Reply

  • Freshman - 1,188 Points Kanniappan Kanniappan (10/29/2013 2:15:00 AM)

    Wonderful poetry with scientific significance and information on the tiny creature, Paramecium, not only for Tom but for us also. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 31 Points Doug Bentley (8/5/2013 12:37:00 AM)

    Thank you! When the human being can be reduced to the complexity of a single-cell organism, the scientist has been trapped, as you imply, as the observer in the observed. Much scientific research has about as much impact as one molecule of emotion. Sad to waste a lifetime on little critters. Glad I'm in the arts! (Report) Reply

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