Biology, Everywhere

Electron Micrograph of Pollen
Biology is everywhere.

I needed to drop off some Arabidopsis plants with Robyn Roth, an electron microscopist in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology at the Washington University Medical School. She is helping us peer inside pollen that is chilled instantly in liquid helium--just four degrees above absolute zero--so that the living cell is frozen in time. That way, we can see how pollen is structured before it has a chance to touch water and reanimate.


Walking through the lab, brimming with tanks of liquid nitrogen, potent solvents and specialized tools for dissecting fixed samples, I noticed the phone on the wall. Sitting innocuously in the middle of this equipment that allows us to peer inside (once) living cells was a simple pattern, a right-handed helix from the coiled phone cord.

DNA. The famous, infamous, structure of the repository of life's information. The 1962 Nobel Prize. The perfectly obvious, in hindsight, mechanism for both replicating itself and for translating the information from the four bases, A, T, C, G, into the building blocks of proteins, three letters at a time. The right-handed double helix is all of these things.

And today, it's how the phone cord coiled on itself. I pointed this out to Robyn and then we both went on with our days, where our work pushes just a little bit further into understanding all of what this simple and beautiful structure can create in every living thing around us.