How many magical moments can one person have with another species? Only a few, right?
I mean, there was that time you fed a cute chipmunk some chips at a rest stop, or the day you encountered an owl in the limbs of a tree right over your head. The squirrels that frolicked through the branches and around the trunk of that huge maple as you walked out of your doctor’s office after getting some good news. The squad of squid that left you trapped on an offshore rock in La Jolla when they positioned themselves between you and the beach, flashing rainbow color changes in unison. The time when a whole herd of deer ghosted out from the early morning mist and silently moved past the deck of your rental cabin while you were out there drinking coffee, wrapped in a blanket, waiting for your students to wake up. The day a fox trotted down the sidewalk in front of you while you were loading the car for work and vanished into the falling snow, leaving only its footprints behind. The flight of geese that swirled around your car and landed, feet extended and wings furiously back-flapping, unexpectantly dropping from the sky while you slammed on your brakes, stunned by the joy of the moment. The day a huge beaver swam across the pond while you and your children silently watched from the bank in the shadow of some shrubs, amazed by the size.
All that stuff didn’t happen to you?
Oh, yeah. Those are my memories.
I have had a lifelong love affair with nature. I started young with bug collections and jars full of creatures that I dug up from the sands during family beach outings. As I got older I branched out and collected every pet my mother would let me keep and looked at things from the garden with my little Christmas microscope. I learned about cells, genes and DNA in college, and then became a biomedical researcher in an immunology lab. I moved on after a few years to become a biology teacher and took every opportunity that came my way to continue my interactions with wildlife and nature. Workshops in the mountains, trips to the desert, classes with wildlife specialists, and days in museum workshops. It has all been great; a life in biology, rich with meaning and wonderment.
But the best, the very best, have been the magical, serendipitous moments that have come to me on my own, interlaced with memories and fraught with personal meaning.
Today is World Scleroderma Day. Gosh, there should be a huge post today that pulls together my whole monthly effort… nope. That sounds just exhausting, doesn’t it. How about we just head out to my garden to see what’s up. After that I can show you the big picture on what I’ve been doing all month in “Science and the Scleroderma Girl”.
Getting into the garden has been difficult for me since the sun and I are not friends. Last week I went out for a couple of hours to weed in the morning in the shade, and yep… I developed a rash on my arms and then the flare arrived. I was holed up for days getting over that little misadventure. After I recovered I tried out weeding after dark. Gosh, I’ve had more fun moping floors. It just isn’t the same if you can’t actual see what you are doing. I wonder why that is?
There are leggings too to provide complete sunblock for the surf enthusiast, but that probably is more than I need to tend to the roses. I usually get wet while I’m watering in the evenings, and once again this baby should handle it fine. I am so set up for the rest of the summer!
Let’s see what is still alive in the garden after a week of amazing, blistering heat. Yesterday it was 105°F; these plants are no longer happy.
This weekend will be cooler, and I gave all the plants a good watering this evening so that they will recover over the next few days. Poor plants. Life has been tough for the last couple of weeks: heavy rain for a week followed by triple digit temperatures and blazing sunlight.
Now that we are leaving the garden here is my Scleroderma Month of June:
Once you feel like you understand the design of experiments it is time to hunt for answers to your own questions in published research studies. I explained how to do this and shared some of my favorite links in this post.
The reason I talked about research and the tools you need to look at what is published out there is because I had to make more hard choices about my own treatment. Having more information helped me with these decisions.
Closing down the show was AP Therapy and leaky gut. I’ve been informed that there wasn’t enough venom here for a rant, but I did try.
What I didn’t put into this was a lot of actual information about what scleroderma is. Oops. This post that I wrote for Rare Disease Day should cover that glaring omission.
So, this is World Scleroderma Day. All over the world people have posted the pictures of their smiles in an effort to make an invisible, but pretty darn serious, disease have a face. My smiling face is above: a little crooked these days, my lips have gotten too thick to smile right, and my hair is falling out, but I am doing well. Every day brings a new challenge, but still, with good luck, humor and a touch of science, I rise.
It is really annoying to have an illness that just keeps going on and on and on… think of the energizer bunny here. A really annoying scleroderma energizer bunny. I am so over it already. I love my doctors, but they are really focused on slowing down the progression of my bad boy illness, systemic sclerosis, and are kind of dismissive of the pain and dizziness that is coming my way courtesy of the fibromyalgia and Sjogren’s Syndrome.
It isn’t that they don’t care. They just have clearly defined priorities in mind as they treat me. It is kind of like when my mom was going through chemo for her cancer. The doctors were very sympathetic about her struggles with nausea and fatigue, and helped her the best they could, but they did not let up on the chemo schedule. My doctors are also sympathetic, but they still took my immunosuppressant dose up as high as they could when I got into trouble with my lungs two years ago. Oh, you are having trouble sleeping? So sorry. Hang in there. It will get better…
I had a surge of rebellion about the same time that this was going on and decided that I would consider myself a walking experiment of one and would try to get a better handle of my symptoms; surely there must be correlations between what I was doing in my day and how I felt. If I understood my test results better perhaps I could have better conversations with my doctors. Stop being a victim, I told myself, and become a patient scientist!
The food log was perhaps the most important thing that I did. I began to figure out lots of things by focusing on what I was eating and what my symptoms were. I ignored the “universal truths” that I was being told to me by other people and focused on what was happening with me. Bam! Some of the things that I figured out actually changed the diagnosis list on my chart, and I certainly improved the quality of my life. Here is the short list of what I discovered about myself: absolutely NO SALT or other forms of sodium, gluten is fine, fiber is a problem, lactose free dairy with live cultures is a daily must, bananas are boss, and I should eat foods with a low glycemic index. Oh yeah: vitamin D and krill oil supplements are good, but tart cherry supplements will damage my kidneys. Good to know.
What happened when I changed my diet? Muscles pain went way down, I got more energy, my gastritis and other GI symptoms improved greatly, I slept better, and the quality of my life improved. For each of those food choices I used myself as an experimental animal. Just one change was made in my diet, and then I tracked symptoms for a week or two to see what happened. My latest experiment has involved bananas; a banana a day keeps my muscle pain way down. Who knew? Have a headache? Eat raisins!
I began to gather other types of data. I took my blood pressure during times when I was feeling poorly to see what it was doing. That’s how I figured out that my inhaler was making my blood pressure drop. Now that I’m off my blood pressure medicine, my pressure is back up, and I’m using my inhaler safely every day. Today I noticed that I was a little short of breath while doing laundry…
Now that I’m using the inhaler daily my energy level is up in my little notebook. Hmm… I’m not sure if this is completely due to the inhaler as I also added bananas to my diet, but as I keep logging observations I may figure it out.
I also have started collecting all the data that I can get from my routine heart and lung testing. I usually get a phone call from the doctor that tells me how I’m doing, but with the data in hand I can have more meaningful conversations with my doctors.
The data that I have circled in the upper table of data shows that my lung volume didn’t change very much when administered a dose of albuterol during my first pulmonary function test, which was done right after I was diagnosed. Two years later, when I was really struggling with shortness of breath, the data in the lower table showed that I improved 16% in my lung volume after that same drug. The technician told me that this was a big response and that he was sure I would be prescribed a drug to help me; that didn’t happen until I made an appointment with my internist weeks later, told her about my response on the drug, and showed her the specific data that I had picked up from the hospital where the test was done. Bam!! I got the inhaler that day.
By collecting data at home and paying attention to my symptoms I’ve been able to give better information to my doctors who have responded with changes in my drug protocol and treatment focus. Today all of my doctors shoot me a full copy of all of my testing data as soon as they get it. I also can access data through the patient portal at Kaiser. I follow changes in data over time, and then I can have a meaningful discussion with my physicians when I see them.
I’m just one data point out of all of the patients that my doctors treat, but by using myself as a walking experiment of one I’ve been able to figure out management strategies to help myself and how to better communicate with my medical team to work with them as a collaborative partner.
This is good. I will never be in control of my illnesses, but I sure am poking them with the pitchfork.
Err… knitting needles. They have definitely been poked.
Science. Everyone knows what science is, right? I mean, we have all been exposed to courses in science that involved learning lots of stuff about rocks, atoms, moving objects, plants, furry animals and stars. There are all of those books and all those facts, equations, and laws to learn. The vocabulary is ridiculous!
Science is also a way of thinking that allows us to learn new information about the world around us. It is a system of reason and logic that helps us understand what we know, and why we know it. Every year I started the biology course with a little unit called “The Nature of Science”, and this is what it covered:
Science is used to explore the natural, physical world around us. The magical and supernatural spheres are definitely off limits. The reason why is…
Science requires that we be able to collect data about a phenomenon we are studying: it must be observable with our senses or instruments. Something may be real, but if we can’t observe it we can’t study it using the rules of science.
The data that is collected should be consistent over time. Think about ghost research; instruments that show the presence of ghosts work on some occasions and not on others. That data isn’t reliable because it isn’t consistent. If I drop a glass it will fall to the floor every time, and it will accelerate towards the floor at the same rate every time I drop it. That data is reliable.
It should be possible to make predictions based on observations and prior understandings. We generally call these predictions hypothesis, and they get tested all the time in…
Experiments! The way we expand our understanding of the natural world is through experimentation that tests these predictive hypotheses. Observable data is collected during the experiment that allows us to draw some conclusions about whether the hypothesis was correct or false. Either way is fine. The point here is, we should be able to test the hypothesis to see if the prediction was accurate.
Here is the best part of science: based on what new understandings are generated our predictive models should be able to be adjusted. NOTHING is forever in science when you are dealing with the big predictive models that we call theories. For example, when I was a child I was told that mountains were formed as the earth cooled and wrinkles formed on the planet “like a raisin”. Ugh! Can you believe I was taught that?! Our current understanding of mountain formation involves the movement of large plates in the earth’s crust (plate tectonics), which actually makes more sense as it also explains earthquakes and volcanoes. Is my heart set on plate tectonics? Nope. If some new information emerges that supports an expanded or new model of mountain formation, I have to follow the data. That’s why theories are said to be “supported” by evidence, but never proven.
Science is about using logic and reason to learn new things about the world. Logical safeguards are in place to help make sure conclusions are valid (you know about some of these… I’m talking about controlled experiments, reproducible results, and peer review of published experimental results). Science is actually a form of applied philosophy; early scientists were called “natural philosophers” and today the degree is still called a Doctor of Philosophy. Yep. That’s what Ph.D. stands for.
Why is this stuff important to me and anyone else with an autoimmune disease? Unhappily, we are out there on the edge of the envelope, falling off the map, and beyond solid scientific understandings. We have diseases that developed via unknown pathways and causes, and they are not completely understood. There is no definitive treatment that will “cure” the disease. We are part of a continuing effort to expand scientific and medical knowledge as we progress through our illnesses using drugs and interventions that are the best predictions for good outcomes. We are all walking hypotheses, and what happens to us helps build the body of evidence on how effective our treatments were. As knowledge expands in labs about the biological pathways and the disease mechanisms, new treatments will be developed, they will also be subjected to this scientific process, and the total body of scientific understandings will grow. Someday it will all be “old stuff” and written in a dusty book.
But today, I’m rocking the edge of the envelope as a walking experiment of one.
Okay, this is it. I’ve been fussing for over a year about writing a series about science, biology, medical decisions, and navigating safely through a world of alternative medicine and treatments. I’ve come close to launching into a block of mini-rants before, but never went there because it would just take too much energy…
June is Scleroderma Awareness Month. As luck would have it, June has also arrived as I sail back into calm waters following a 6 week storm set off by worsening symptoms, medical testing, and finally a collaborative consensus between my doctors and myself based on data that informs a new course of treatment. In other words, science, biology, and data-driven medical decisions have saved the day. I have lived a life of science in my educational and professional life and this training and way of thinking continues to save the day for me. I do have other skills, of course, but the foundation is always based in science.
I guess I think that it is time for me to share in case it helps anyone else.
This month I am better. This month my energy is coming back, ideas for topics are swirling in my head, and I think that the time has come. I’ve started a planning grid with all of my topics and resources, and things are starting to come together. Since June is Scleroderma Awareness Month, this is the month that I should do this. If I can put this all together, there will be a post each day this month. With Star Trek quotes, of course!
Okay, this is a rant. This rant is so long and complicated, with so many connections to other topics, that I have considered that I should perhaps launch another blog just to deal with it. Or maybe create an online course for people with complex autoimmune diseases. Something. Because I finally have snapped for sure.
It happened while I was attending my monthly Scleroderma Support group in July. I go to these meetings because I need to talk to people about my illness, become educated about treatments and coping strategies, and to get, you know, support! I want to flock with my peeps!! Usually in these meetings there are introductions, a little sharing, nice snacks, and a presentation by a guest speaker.
This is the problem. The speakers who have been coming are often involved in alternative treatment strategies. As in alternative medicine. As in flat out pseudoscience masquerading as legitimate methods of treatment for our complex health conditions. These speakers have been trained in their “method” and faithfully parrot back what they were told in their training. They have little actual knowledge of human physiology, biology, disease, or science. They are connected to a product or system that they want to sell to us to help us “stay healthy”. They especially tell us that they can help us have “healthy” immune systems and/or take away our pain. Since I am in pain because my immune system is misbehaving it’s hard to not find their messages appealing.
Except… I was a biology teacher. I used to work in a research lab. I know science as a logical process with rules, and this information is so outrageous it causes me to wiggle around in my chair, bite my tongue, and often whip out my cell phone to fact check.
Me: Google, please tell me if Leaky Gut is a real thing?
Google: Are you crazy? Of course not.
Me: That’s what I thought…
But evidently I absolutely, positively need to take this essential oil to protect me from leaky gut. Or the toxins will leak out though the holes in my intestines. This is the cause of many complex illnesses. Research? We don’t need no stinking research. We have testimonials!!
How about the day I learned that I need to massage my hands and feet at specific pressure points to clean the toxins out of my liver, pancreas and other parts of my body? Really. I was informed that the problem is that the cells of my body get dehydrated, will form tough protective barriers, and the fascia then can’t move fluids throughout the body. This was such a garbled version of reality it was practically science salad.
Me: Google, please tell me exactly what fascia is.
Google: Sure. Fascia is the thin, tough barrier around muscles and organs. It is part of your connective system and made of collagen.
Me: Google, just to be sure, it doesn’t have anything to do with fluid transport?
Google. No, dumb ass. That would be the lymph system.
Me: Google, that’s what I thought. No need to cop an attitude with me, you wouldn’t believe what I’m dealing with here.
As if all this fact checking wasn’t exhausting enough, there is also a hint of “anti-science” in the room. Several other patients have become convinced that we need to stop taking our meds as they have unacceptable side effects. It is better, they argue, to control our disease with diet, essential oils and supplements. OMG! It isn’t possible to google fast enough to keep up with this stuff!
Me: Google, what is this alkaline diet all about?
Me: Google, is dairy inflammatory?
Me: Google, do I need to take massive doses of probiotics every day, or can I just eat yogurt? This speaker is telling me I have to buy their product since I can’t eat dairy anymore…
Me: Google, how quickly do bacteria divide? Every 20 minutes? So I don’t need a massive dose?
Me: Google, is there any research showing a positive benefit of essential oils in systemic sclerosis?
While loading up on gluten free snacks at the break I finally snapped and asked the group facilitator if she thought it would be appropriate to let people advocate going off their meds and using essential oils to treat their conditions if this was a cancer support group?
“Well, no…”, she replied. “But that’s cancer.”
I just looked back at her until I saw something click in her brain, and then I left. I’m done.
Since then I have been fussing around about why this is happening. I understand that this is a tough disease (in more than one way), but how awful it is that there is so much misinformation out there that people don’t know what is accurate, and what isn’t. Desperate people will clutch at anything that gives them hope. Sometimes these things are based in sound logic, reason and science (stem cell transplants), and sometimes they are not (amber beads for pain relief). Obviously people need to know more about the nature of science, basic physiology, immunology, cell biology, and how the medications prescribed by their doctors work. They need to know their Star Trek!!
So, I feel a lot better after finishing up my rant, but I still think that I may need to launch a mini-series of posts relating to this. I mean, there are all those pseudoscience cures to debunk. All that biology to share. All those Star Trek quotes.
Stay tuned. If I start the new blog, I’ll let you all know where it is. Otherwise, a lot of my knitting friends are going to be exposed to some biology. Feel free to let me know how you feel about that.J
When I taught high school biology I had a sign over the door of my classroom that said “Biology is Life”. (I also had a poster with a picture of Charles Darwin and a caption that said “AP Biology: Adapt, Migrate or Die”, but that is another story…) Anyway, I thought my sign over the door was cute. And true.
This week I finally took on the task of weeding out my flower beds and getting them ready for the new year. Really, a simple and somewhat rewarding task, but for me an afternoon of rich classroom memories and an endless rush of biological trivia. It was so much fun, in fact, I thought I’d take all of you on a short trip through my garden. Ready? Here we go!
Rich with life, details and memories, my gardens are once again growing.
When I used to work in a medical research lab one of my co-workers described what we did as mastering the art of serendipitous phenomenology. I think that he meant that we (hoped to be) alert, observant, curious and reflective about events around us. Big discoveries can occur from chance observations if one pays attention; one of the famous ones is Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin. Another of my coworkers discovered an important immune system inhibitor (which led to a patent and eventually a drug. How cool is that?) Of course, there aren’t any big scientific discoveries in my life right now, but I have had a run of fun occurrences lately. It’s been making me think about serendipity, and that perhaps one of the secrets of finding joy in every day living is in mastering the art of serendipitous phenomenology.
So, here is my run of fun;
I was already contemplating serendipity when I arrived at my favorite local yarn store yesterday. I had a hazy notion that I wanted to get a cashmere blend yarn that would look nice with grey to make another Hitchhiker (by Martina Behm). Going through the sock yarns with a friend a skein suddenly fell out of its cubby and landed on the floor at my feet. “Well, there’s your yarn”, said my friend. There it was indeed! This yarn is 20% cashmere. The color is perfect for me and my new grey sweater. After going through all the yarn we could not find one that was a better fit.
Hey, who am I to argue with the universe? This yarn is clearly destined to become a Hitchhiker. The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. Obviously I needed to buy this yarn.
See what I did there? Even though this yarn was expensive I was able to absolutely justify buying it with my smoking post-Christmas credit card.
And that is the Art of Serendipitous Phenomenology, my friends.
Out in the courtyard between buildings at LASP my team and I spread out our antenna (yards and yards of wire hung in trees and across the ground), plugged in the earplug, and hunted up and down the radio-wave spectrum using our tuner looking for a signal. Suddenly, it was there. A voice and music from far away; a momentary connection to an invisible person that launched us into yelps and leaping high-fives in the afternoon heat. Even for people who can’t survive without computers and smart boards it was a magical moment.
In the book All the Light We Cannot Seethe author Anthony Doerr tells a tale about connections such as these and so much more. On the surface it is a tale about a boy, a girl, and a fabulous diamond. Under the surface we discover that the “Sea of Flames” diamond is cursed with mystical powers, the boy is a genius whose talents will be consumed by the Third Reich, and that the girl is blind but sees better than many others around her. Their story is framed within the shocking human waste and chaos of war.
This should have been a grim story, and the likelihood that I would continue reading it was slim, but I was captured quickly by the humanity of the characters and the sense of wonder they brought to their worlds. Werner, our young boy in this book, keeps a book of “questions” of the kind only a budding scientist would collect. He builds a radio from scraps, and he and his sister Jutta listen to voices over the airwaves. They learn about the world outside their oppressive coal mining community, and they hear science lessons for children in a French voice that captivates them. “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever,” says the voice. Their eyes are opened.
Marie-Laure, our young girl, blind from a young age, is raised by her father in a museum in Paris, France. She is a clever young lady who observes, learns, and applies logic to the world around her. She collects pine cones, explores the inhabitants of oceans shores, learns how to classify mollusks by variations in their shells ,and reads Jules Verne novels in Braille. Her father loves her greatly.
The lives of Werner and Marie-Laure intersect through the radio. Werner becomes part of a unit that hunts for radio transmissions by freedom fighters in occupied Europe. Marie-Laure becomes involved in outlawed radio broadcasts. Through the radio these two are destined to meet each other. Because this is war, and there is an enchanted diamond of immense worth involved, nothing will be simple. Lives are lost, conditions become desperate, both Werner and Marie-Laure will be trapped in fire-bombed and burning Saint-Malo, and the sea reclaims its own. Human potential will be lost, a promising future obtained. What a book!
The book is much richer than the central characters and storyline. It is peopled with a host of other characters who are connected to Werner and Marie-Laure. It has themes within the central theme. Science lives in its pages, and books shine throughout. We become aware of the immense destructiveness of war; lives and cultures will be impacted for generations to come. We begin to understand our inability to control our own lives, and glimpse the amazing power of self-determination. As with the diamond in the book it is possible for great gifts and curses to exist at the same time. What is the light that we cannot see? I’m pretty sure that it is radio waves, microwaves, the heat from burning coal, and so many things that are obvious looking at an electromagnetic wave chart. “How does the brain, locked in darkness, build for us a world full of light?” Marie-Laure’s great-uncle asks in the book; the light we cannot see is also about souls, promises kept and lost, and the connections that bind us all together.
“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”
It seems that my life has become an exercise in synchronicity and random coincidences. I checked a book out of the library, read one that had been sitting on my NOOK for weeks, picked up a book on a sale table at Barnes & Noble, and remembered a video that I used to show my biology classes each winter. Strangely, they all fit together. No matter what I thought the book would be about, it began to talk about DNA and evolution at some point. How bizarre! All three books (The Signature of All Things, The Sociopath Next Door , and Orfeo) echoed things that I remembered from the video series Intimate Strangers: Unseen Life on Earth, which was broadcast in November 1999 on PBS. All these connections are just churning around in my head; here’s my thoughts about the video and one of the books, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert..
The episode that I’ve become fixated upon while reading these books is the first one in the Intimate Strangers series, The Tree of Life. If you would like to actually watch this episode (and all the others, of course) they are housed at Microbe World. The biology classes saw this video when they were learning about taxonomy and the kingdoms of life. In the video we meet Dr. Carl Woese, a microbiologist of singular vision and drive. Working alone for years, chasing patterns in the mutations of a small, heavily conserved region of DNA, he pieced together the pattern of relationships between living things on earth. Using this information, Woese was able to determine the sequence of descent, establish common ancestors and eventually created a new “Tree of Life”. His work shook up the taxonomy world as domains were created (a grouping above “kingdom” in the normal sequence of “kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species”), and our understanding of evolution was enriched and altered forever. One man, working alone, chasing patterns in the musical score of life that is DNA, was able to change our view of the natural world.
This is what Dr. Woese says on camera in the video:
You have to have your own particular sensitivity to the world, and there has to be parts of it that are beautiful to you, because they’re beautiful to you regardless of what anyone else ever thinks. You see this all the time in an artist, and you see it also in good scientists.
This brings me to The Signature of All Things. In this book we meet Alma Whittaker, the daughter of a botanical robber baron. Raised in a wealthy and enriched environment that encourages learning and allows Alma to meet many eminent people in the scientific world, and possessing the logical mind of her mother, Alma is nonetheless trapped within the small world of her father’s estate. She sets up a lab in the carriage house, explores the land around her, and spends the majority of her life studying the world of mosses and liverworts. Small as her life becomes contained within the estate as she handles her father’s business and the details of life, it allows her to follow her “own particular sensitivity to the world” as she observes the interactions and changes in her moss populations; in truth she sees that mosses living within a timeframe much slower than our own engage in the same behaviors as the animal kingdom around her. It is a life of study in a world that is beautiful to her, and Alma is a good scientist. Life altering events cause her to leave the estate following her marriage and the death of her father, and she travels to Tahiti and Holland, where the glory and chaos of a larger world help her develop a theory of evolution based on her understanding of mosses. This theory, while never published, propels her into a new life within her mother’s Dutch family and she obtains standing in the scientific community based on her own merits.
This was a good book. I’m a biology geek, so of course I liked it! Is it believable that Alma could have slowly come to a theory of evolution on her own? Sure. This book is a glimpse into the world that gave birth to the original theory. Science can always be pursued by a committed individual of observant and reflective nature. This was the time of Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, and Alfred Russel Wallace; Alma would have had access to the same ideas and published works that they had. All three of these men worked alone as gentlemen scientists, observed nature, designed experiments and looked for patterns. They wrote each other and shared their scientific ideas. Darwin and Wallace arrived at the mechanism of natural selection through independent work at about the same time; they published jointly in 1858. Mendel published his work in 1866, which would have been extremely helpful to Wallace and Darwin, but they missed the boat on that one! It will be almost 100 more years before we understood that the molecule of inheritance is DNA, and many more years before Carl Woese read the musical score of DNA to finally see the signature of all things.
Alma never publishes her theory because it can’t explain why all people aren’t sociopaths. Why does altruism exist, she wonders? How can natural selection account for what we see in people around us? Richard Dawkins addresses this very issue in The Selfish Gene. Guess what’s next on my reading list?