The Evolving Passion

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The sweat trickling down my neck felt like the stickiness of a dinosaur’s breath. My muscles tightened as author Michael Crichton revealed the extent of scientific advancement in today’s world. The pages of Jurassic Park turned quickly in my hands. A young reader, I had picked up this book at age thirteen, expecting to be regaled by wildly imagined dinosaur tales. Instead, Jurassic Park offered a revelation on the biology of life with chapters on DNA, cloning, and the making of dinosaurs.Life became more comprehensible in my thirteen-year-old mind. From Jurassic Park, I learned that each organism consists of genes entwined in strands of material called DNA. At a time when Dolly the Sheep was old news and genetically-engineered salmon were cost-effective, I knew that humans were becoming closer to understanding life on a molecular level. We nearly had all the How’s — the mechanics — of life answered. But the Why’s were still missing. Why does life exist as it is? In search of the answers to this question, I took the biology courses offered at my middle school. However, every time a class embarked on the genetics unit, I found myself staring at the same image of Watson and Crick and their DNA model. It wasn’t until high school when I met a teacher who was willing to grapple with the question of why life is how it is on planet earth. My teacher introduced me to the field of evolutionary biology and its experts, Richard Dawkins, Ernst Mayr, and above all, Charles Darwin. Perusing their texts late into many of my high school nights, I learned that the science of evolutionary biology had not yet been perfected. It was easy for me to decide to study punctuated equilibrium, the idea that evolution occurs in short spurts of change, for my final paper in AP Biology junior year. Though I knew that the debate between those who believe that evolution occurs gradually and those who believe that change follows a pattern known as “punctuated equilibrium” was not ending in the near future, I was convinced that I would find a right answer after performing extensive research. My extreme optimism soon gave way to realism. After months of reading works by different biologists, sifting through their elaborate metaphors to decipher the writers’ true meanings, I came to the conclusion that there is no right answer. The best explanation may be that evolution occurs at a gradual pace with 10,000 year “spurts” of change, consisting of gradual change. Even so, I finished my paper with a sense of satisfaction. Like life itself, the evolution of organisms is complex and cannot be explained by one idea alone. Until now, I had neglected the biologists’ main point: the search for explanation is a journey of compromises that ultimately leads to a greater understanding. The study of evolution is about life but also reflects life. Like my search to uncover the roots of life, both can be frustrating, leaving many questions unanswered; yet they are nevertheless rewarding and offer hope.

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