In the twentieth and twenty-first chapters of Darwin’s Watch, genes are way more ridiculous than I thought, and the wizards go after the Auditors. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld III.
Hi, parasitic wasps are TOO MUCH??? Oh my god, they inject polydnaviruses into their hosts so that their hosts don’t fight the parasite growing in them? THAT IS… SO MUCH. Like, wasps were already horrific to me. (Seriously, I mention this on video, but I get that they’re not moral entities. Yet I still see them as evil because have you ever been stung by a wasp??? It is HELL ON EARTH.) But genetically… yeah, I have to agree with Darwin here. This shit is fascinating. I mean, how many of you have also gone through a similar quandary before? When I was young, I couldn’t understand how mosquitoes were part of God’s perfect plan. Granted, I am not saying that I approached the issue with the same scientific rigor. I mostly just hated getting mosquito bites because those damn things always seem to find me. (I swear the point of this review is not, “Mark gets attacked by things,” I swear.) But this chapter just blew my mind. Parasitic wasps have a provirus, sequenced in their own genome. IT’S A LOT TO WRAP MY MIND AROUND. But this line just… oh my god:
The authors conclude that polydnavirus genomes constitute ‘biological weapons directed by the wasps against their hosts.’ So they look more like the enemy’s genome than that of an ordinary virus.
Life is truly stranger than fiction, y’all.
I admit I started to get a little lost once the Roundworld section delved deep into RNA-messengers and the concept of junk DNA. I have heard that line about most of our DNA being “junk” plenty of times before, so I felt like I knew what I was reading, but the whole “intron” thing lost me. Even re-reading it now, I only somewhat remember exons, and I’m not quite sure what introns actually are. But the example with Richard Jorgensen and his petunias got me a little closer to comprehending what I was reading: more enzymes don’t necessarily equate to more proteins.
But holy shit, THE ERV-3 PROTEIN. YOOOOOOO, now THAT is some great shit, y’all. I knew that there was some sort of protein that did this, but I never knew the specifics of it. I loved the ending of the chapter, too, because concluding with the ERV-3 protein allows the authors to make their case for the complicated world of genetics. Not just that, but stating clearly that the molecule has not triumphed. There’s so much more we can learn about genes and DNA! And that final line, about how we literally would not exist without the ERV-3 protein, is one you might find in an argument for a creator. Here, though, the argument is in favor of accepting that could very well be wrong about a great deal of understanding of genetics. Instead of accepting what we have, we should strive to always learn more.
THE DEAN RETURNS TO FORM! Oh, I loved the callback to paintball wizards, first of all, and how that’s brought back so that the Dean can take a VERY IMPORTANT SHOT at one of the auditors. Truly, chapter twenty-one is all about the wizards fighting back against the Auditors and dealing with the camiloops they accidentally left open. First of all, I just want to appreciate this:
‘There is some evidence that Auditors, being embodiments of physical laws, find it hard to deal with nonsensical or contradictory instructions. Therefore, I have prepared these.’
He flourished something that looked like a table-tennis bat. On it were printed the words: ‘Do Not Read This Sign.’
Oh my god, the wizards have turned into an edgy shirt at Hot Topic or Spencers. And it’s a legit weapon, too! Along with Higgs & Meakins Luxury Assortment of chocolate, the wizards were actually prepared. I was impressed! I mean, they were a terrible mess once they became invisible, but that’s to be expected. I didn’t even really consider how hard it would be to coordinate travel while invisible? So, to their credit, that was VERY hard. But look how well they do otherwise! They find one of the camiloops in Darwin’s past, which takes them back to Mono Island, a place I did not expect to see again in these books. And it confirms that the God of Evolution did have access to Darwin, explaining the “vision” he got.
It also means that I got to see the Dean be fully glorious as he hit the last Auditor with a Nougat Surprise. Strangely, I think even American chocolate boxes always have one nougat-y surprise that’s terrible, too. (Many of the flavors listed sounded incredible, for the record.) The Dean got to be ridiculous, it paid off, and the wizards are ever closer to repairing Roundworld.
But what about Darwin??? He still knows SO MUCH.
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