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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Open Letter to My DNA

Dear DNA,

Over billions of years, using only five kinds of atoms combined to make only four varieties nucleotides, woven together like a spiraling rope-ladder, you have created the fantastic diversity of organic life, from Giant Sequoias to deep-sea-vent tube worms.  Though incapable of joy or suffering, you have made these possible.  Though not conscious, you have given us consciousness.  Though not alive, you have brought forth life.


I do not wish to blame you unjustly for matters beyond your control.  Death, for example, while inconvenient from the standpoint of sentient creatures such as myself, is clearly not a grievance that can be fairly laid at your doorstep.  Even were it possible for DNA to overcome the universal laws of entropy and decay, doing so would be impracticable since what progress you have achieved has arisen only by the process of "creative destruction."  Not only must organisms consume each other for nourishment, but organisms must compete against others of the same species to determine the most suitably adapted.  As new species arise, old species must give way.

Without Death, this whole intricate system would go ker-flooey.

Nevertheless, I wish to register a complaint, specifically on the matter of hair, and more specifically on the topic of male-pattern baldness of the human male.  This, I'm sure, seems like a very trivial matter, but it is its very smallness that makes it such an unnecessary annoyance.  I am reliably informed by both expert opinion and personal observation that baldness is attributable to DNA.  Were not both my father and his father bald, were it possible to believe I have lost my hair because of exposure to sunshine, "thinking too much," or divine retribution, I would have no basis for complaint.  Baldness in that case would be due to lifestyle choices, and I would have no one to blame but myself.

But I did nothing to cause baldness except surviving to mature adulthood, for which I can scarcely be blamed.  Even so, I would not take issue if baldness had a clear survival value for the species.  But what purpose does hair loss serve?  Does making me unattractive to potential mates ensure I do not contaminate the gene pool?  But surely, it is in the interest of the species that its males remain sexually viable as long as possible, especially in the case of specimens such as myself who show such splendidly adaptive traits in other areas, for example remembering to put the seat down and "being a good listener."  Even if baldness served the purpose of warning off potential mates, just as a butterfly's bright colors warn off predators, surely this task is already amply accomplished by the sagging skin, baggy eyes, and liver spots you have also endowed me with.

Adding insult to injury, the loss of hair on my scalp is accompanied by a corresponding sprouting elsewhere. For example, my ears.  What's up with that?  What possible evolutionary benefit is achieved by making me grow hair in my ears?  The excess nose hair, while a nuisance, is at least partly justified by knowing all members of my species have nose hair, and that nose hair is indeed a positive adaptation.  That since turning fifty, I have begun growing nose hair like a human Chia Pet, and that my nostrils - unless mowed at regular intervals - resemble a pair of Yetis crouching side-by-side in twin caves is a regrettable but perhaps inevitable side effect of a valuable adaption going somewhat awry over the course of a lifetime.  But why the ear hair, and why, while we're at it, the single hair on my back?  On one shoulder blade, I have begun growing a single hair.  Unless plucked, it can reach a length of four inches.  These aggravations serve no evolutionary purpose, to have hairs grow where they are useless if not downright counter-productive when they could be growing somewhere that would make me better adapted to my environment, for example, the top of my head.

Let me stress I offer these criticisms in the spirit of making constructive suggestions.  As I write this, I look out the window at the leaves, changing to orange and gold at the approach of autumn.  Far above, a red-tailed hawk is poised in the air, wings spread to catch a thermal draft, almost as motionless as if it had been painted.  Good job on that stuff, truly.  But if you could see your way clear, and I'm not asking for myself because I know it's too late for me, to taking care of the baldness thing in the next hundred million years or so, I think it would prove quite a successful adaption, sacrifice nothing in maintaining the balance between life and mortality, and raise morale generally.

Yours very sincerely,

Man Martin

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