Brian Cox On Genetic Mutation

Remember that awesome Wonders of Life series trailer I reblogged from Metousiosis a while back? Well, unbeknownst to me, the show, featuring Professor Brian Cox, has already started playing on The Science Channel! I discovered this by accident when I stumbled across a replay of the “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” episode early this morning, just in time to see the part reflected in this amazing clip:

Isn’t that just freakin amazing? And what a stroke of luck it was to find that clip so easily!

However, it was what professor Cox said next that made my jaw drop! Sadly, I wasn’t able to find a clip for that part. But I thought it absolutely worth the effort to piece together his statement from a Wonders of Life: Preview Subtitles page (bold emphasis mine):

“Mutations are an inevitable part of living on a planet like Earth. They’re the first hint at how DNA and the genes that code for every living thing change from generation to generation. Mutations are the spring from which innovation in the living world flows. But cosmic rays are not the only way in which DNA can be altered. There’s natural background radiation from the rocks, there’s the action of chemicals and free radicals. There can be errors when the code is copied.

“And then all those changes can be shuffled by sex, and indeed whole pieces of the code can be transferred from species to species. So, bit by bit, in tiny steps from generation to generation, the code is constantly randomly changing. Now, whilst there’s no doubt that random mutation does alter DNA, evolution is anything but random. It can’t be, because the chances of something with DNA as complex as this appearing by luck alone are vanishingly small.

Imagine you just changed one position in the code at random, a random mutation. There are four letters, A, T, C and G, so there are four possible combinations. If there are two places in the code, there are four combinations for each one. So that makes 16. If there are three, then there are 64 possibilities. By the time you get to a code with 150 letters in it, then there are more possible combinations in the code than there are atoms in the observable universe.

“Now, a hippo has a code with around three billion different letters. So the number of combinations of those letters, the chances of producing that code at random, are absolutely, infinitesimally small. It’s impossible. So there must be a non-random element to evolution… ..a natural process, which greatly restricts this universe of possibilities, and shapes the outcome.

“We call it Natural Selection.”

Wow, Brian Cox really has a way with words. That statement just blew me away!

If you’d like to check this show out, the schedule for upcoming episodes is at The Science Channel. The “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” episode will be rebroadcast, yet again, on Wednesday, August 21, at 5AM (ET/PT). You’d better believe my DVR is set!

BTW, if you’d like to try the experiment Professor Cox performed in that clip for yourself, you’ll find detailed instructions at Building a Cloud Chamber (Cosmic Ray Detector). But please, heed the warnings!

I want ice water.

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25 thoughts on “Brian Cox On Genetic Mutation

  1. I loved that episode, what a great kick in the head… his way of explaining it is just so great, sounds so easy when he says it and then you sit there with a big wow on your face. πŸ™‚


        • Too late to worry about that now my friend. I couldn’t resist starting on this post while my TV was paused on this show, but when I decided to give it a rest, I realized that was just one of a marathon of great science programs. After finishing this show, I ended up watching 4 more back to back before I finally passed out! 😯

          The funny thing is that, after I woke up and put the finishing touches on this post, I read the Radar Love: how classic rock helps to highlight Java problems post that used the lyrics of that song to describe the crazy paths you can go down when dealing with PC security issues. After my marathon night, I know just how he feels! πŸ˜†

          I’ve been drivin’ all night, my hand’s wet on the wheel
          There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel
          It’s my baby callin’, says, “I need you here”
          And it’s a half past four and I’m shiftin’ gear

          No more speed, I’m almost there
          Gotta keep cool now, gotta take care
          Last car to pass, here I go
          And the line of cars drove down real slow


    • Me too Alex. In fact, it’s that quality that he has in common with Carl Sagan that almost makes him a better choice as host for the new Cosmos series. On the other hand, Neil deGrasse Tyson is not only THE MAN, he’s American too. Is it wrong for me to appreciate that about him? 😳


        • You know Alex, open-minded, ‘scientific thinker’ types like us are supposed to be ‘above’ the whole ‘nationalism’ thing. And I’ll bet that that’s precisely the position both of those guys would take. Shame on us!!! πŸ˜†


            • Absolutely. I am a capitalist after all. But the same can also be said for cooperation. I would argue that we would not have gotten so far as a species without a healthy mixture of both. It’s sad really, that, in a day where technology could allow us to benefit from cooperative efforts to degrees unheard of in history, the tone of the times is so filled with distrust and paranoia… πŸ˜•


                • I agree with you about science being one of the few fields where cooperation and competition are both very much alive. But scientists have about as much say over what their discoveries are used for as the engineers I worked with had over what the technology they designed was used for – almost none…


                  • You’ve told me that before Mak, and I did start it, but didn’t get the chance to finish it. I need to run out to the library, maybe I’ll pick it up again. I did read The Fountainhead.


                • The Fountainhead was like a first draft. Very good, but Atlas Shrugged was the finished manifesto. Let me know when you’ve figured out what John Galt meant when he said he’d “stop the motor of the world.” It would be great to have someone to talk to about it who’s opinion I actually respect…


                • I was introduced to both Ayn Rand and The Fountainhead by the librarian at my first college, with whom I’d have these long and energetic philosophical debates. After one that was particularly heated, she yelled β€œYou sound just like Ayn Rand!” at me out of frustration. When I responded with a bewildered β€œWho?” she grabbed a copy of The Fountainhead off the shelf and handed it to me.

                  Talk about your life changing experiences! Reading that book was like leaping to some point in the future where I’d finally figured out, and written down, exactly what I’d been struggling to say for my whole life!

                  Atlas Shrugged took those same thoughts to their logical, earth shattering, conclusions… 😯


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