Sunday, June 20, 2010


A post for the gallery. This weeks theme is 'creatures'

Even when I was young and single, I always dreamed of taking my own children to museums. As a child myself I loved them, especially the Natural History museum in London. I went to university in South Kensington, so indulged my love of the place regularly back then, we even had a college ball in the great entrance hall, sitting to eat under the ancient gaze of the famous brontosaurus skeleton.

We are fortunate to have a brilliant Natural History museum here in San Francisco, The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Not quite on the scale of the London one, but still a lovely place, bright, interesting and with a fantastic aquarium as part of its offering.

Taking the children to visit is as much fun as I imagined it would be (though a little more haphazard and more fraught with anxiety than the rosy anticipation of children and museums I indulged in before having actual children. I lost Geekygirl in the aquarium once.)

I never get tired of watching the children encounter new things. I share in their wonder at the variety of life. It really is amazing. As you might imagine, as biologist I am drawn to the study of evolution. It is mind boggling to think that every life form on the planet had a single common ancestor. Life on earth arose just once, and every living thing, still living or long extinct, evolved from from that first elusive and poorly understood spark.

Take these creatures. They don't look much like us. But the basic genes that determine body plan, the gene that tell the growing embryo front from back and head from tail are found in these animals, looking recognizably similar in sequence to the same genes in humans. We shared a common ancestor, about 600 million years ago.

The children were mesmerized, which gave me a moment to grab my camera and snap a shot of the cnidarians or jellies. Aren't they amazing?