The Common Good
May-June 2001

Last One in the Gene Pool…

by Ed Spivey Jr. | May-June 2001

It's no surprise that humans are smarter than roundworms. Well, most humans, anyway.

Congratulations to genetic scientists who have finally proven that humans are more highly developed than roundworms. (Working on the human genome project, scientists also believe we're more complex than the mustard plant, but they're still checking to be sure.)

The reason for the comparison is that humans have roughly the same number of genes as the roundworm, although ours produce more proteins and work harder. (Which might come as a surprise to those who thought a similarity to lower life forms explains why teen-agers listen to The Backstreet Boys, one of the current crop of so-called "boy bands" who, ironically, sound like girls. Admittedly, my generation also listened to boy bands, and when Frankie Valli sang "Walk Like a Man" in his trademark falsetto, it sounded more like "Walk Like a Man Just Hit by an Under-thrown Fastball."
But I digress.)

Now, it's no surprise to me that humans are smarter than roundworms (Losers!), and, although there are a couple of people at the office who have much in common with mustard plants, I think this is pretty good evolutionary news. In fact, I feel vindicated in my childhood hopes that the roundworm toughs at my high school would one day regret the unkind things they said to me. (I prayed they'd have to eat their words—although, as it turns out, they don't so much eat them as secrete an enzyme that is then re-absorbed through their outer membranes.)

Not surprising, roundworms took the news hard and complained that this was just another in a long series of indignities they have endured throughout history. Bad enough that Jesus chose the mustard seed for an important analogy—they always felt "the Kingdom of God is like a roundworm" had a much better ring to it—but this latest slight was a little hard to swallow (although, again, if you're paying attention, they don't actually swallow).

Before this scientific revelation returned them to their original biological status (parasitica mos flushworthi), roundworms had grown accustomed to being treated as genetic equals to humans. They had no qualms about demanding the same respect at fine restaurants and clothiers, or jauntily riding down the highway with the top down and the wind blowing—James Dean-like—through their microscopic follicles. But people were wearying of the "annoying little parasites" and the way the tabloids obsessively reported their every move. ("ROUNDWORM BEHIND TOM AND NICOLE SPLIT".... "SHED 10 POUNDS IN ONE DAY WITH CELEBRITY ROUNDWORM DIET!")

And many felt it was time for the roundworm to reassume its proper genetic place, alongside other simple organisms such as the sea cucumber and Rep. Tom DeLay (who has yet to end the speculation that he is, genetically speaking, more closely linked to ultra-conservative ocean plankton).

The human genome project examines one of the last great mysteries of life, and scientists feel that, once fully understood, there will be only a few remaining secrets to explore. These include: subatomic particles (or, in scientific shorthand, "Stone Phillips"), the basic structure of light, and the complex question of how to fold women's underwear. (Are you supposed to end up with a triangle or a parallelogram?) And, more important, why I have to do it in the first place.

In other science-related news, Kansas' newly elected school board voted to overturn its earlier ban on teaching evolution in schools. The nearly unanimous vote came shortly after it was discovered that the previous school board had evolved from roundworms.

And speaking of evolution, we were pleased to see that, in his early months in office, President Bush bravely rejected the draconian rules of pronoun usage that have, over the millennia, come to inhibit our language. For instance, his repeated use of the singular when the arcane strictures of English required the plural was a clear sign that the shackles of grammatical propriety need no longer chafe nor constrict. Clearly, this is a president who will not quayle in the face of good grammar or in the presence of those who purport to speak it. He's is a higher calling.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of

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