Monday, August 14, 2006

Biodiversity and taxonomy

Life in all its variety has always fascinated humans. Language and naming go hand in hand. And that's really all there is to taxonomy: the laws of classifying names. There are numerous schemes for classifying the names of living creatures none of which should deter us from our tendency to name the creatures of this world!

The job is far from over for new species are being named daily especially amongst the numerous "lower" forms of life. Recently, a scientist concluded that we know (have named) only 10% of the bacteria. Another recent little tidbit was that we "know" only about 12,000 species of ant but it is supposed that twice this number of species may actually exist!

Taxonomy has become unpopular as a subject of study in recent years. Subjects like cell biology, biochemistry and immunology are where careers in science are to be made. The trend away from taxonomy has been around for over 30 years, many grad students in those days ended up without jobs after spending years of doing intense study on taxonomy.

Sad but true. But, I believe that taxonomy will someday see a revival for it is tied to such a basic human instinct. If we knew why we are so fascinated with names we may understand our selves a lot better. Science started from taxonomy and someday we will rediscover the joy and importance of what makes a species what it is, and the importance of maintaining that identity.

Today's assault comes partly from biotechnology; take a gene from this genome and stick into that one and lets see if we can't 'improve' this form of life, or at least make it more useful - in my opinion very short sighted, and highly dangerous! So, let's get back to respecting life and respecting ourselves a bit.

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