Hopefully all you liberal arts majors will learn something.
I will try to fill this article with interesting facts, clever stories, and all the strange ironies that nature has to offer. If you need clarification, or have any questions, I’ll be happy answer. After all, as living and growing beings, we are all here to learn. If I can’t answer it truthfully, you’ll at least be rewarded with a smart-ass remark.
And so, without further ado, I give you
Once upon a time, a fearless leader of a beautiful country gazed out upon his mother land. Our leader is Stalin, our land, the USSR. Being a leader concerned for his country's wellfare, Stalin wished for a more efficient way to feed his people. As he stood upon a precipice overlooking a valley set aside for agriculture, Stalin gazed upon the fruitful radish crops to his left, then turned to the leafy green row of cabbage crops on his right. Scraggly, useless radish leaves, beautiful, green, kind of smelly cabbage leaves. He observed the fecundity of the fields once more; radish, and cabbage. Radish. Cabbage. Radish...Cabbage. Radishcabbageradishcabbage...as Stalin slammed his palms into either side of his head to prevent whiplash, he realized he had come upon an ingenious idea, an idea that would change agriculture forever...
Leningrad University. A dark lab, tables cluttered with books, papers, and various glass containers filled with colorful contents, bubbling away over open flames. A telephone ring breaks the white noise of important and expensive laboratory instruments whirring away. A hand shoots out of the dark, grasping the receiver.
Karpechenko was the head of genetics at Leningrad U. Little did he know, fate was about to stick a hitch in his get-a-long. Fate or Stalin, whichever way you’d like to look at it.
“Karpechenko, this is your dictator. I have come up with an idea that will change how we feed the masses forever. I’ve heard that you teach genetics.”
“I’ve noticed that growing two separate crops of radishes and cabbage take up a whole lot of room. I want you to figure out a way to create one plant, one remarkable vegetable, that will be both a radish and a cabbage, and therefore solve this nasty space problem. I’m counting on you, Karpechenko. Make it happen.”
After a bottle of vodka and a good cry, Karpechenko threw on his lab coat, his favorite Stravinsky suite, and set to working on how to breed two vegetables that were not even in the same genus.
Luckily for him, radishes and cabbage are kind of special, genetically speaking. Both plants are what we scientists call “diploid individuals,” meaning that each have two copies of their genetic make-up. You, in fact, are also a diploid. Therefore, the sex cells the plants produce, like human sex cells, contain only one copy. Sexual reproduction joins the two separate copies, one given by each parent, to create a new individual with characteristics from each parent. Usually, when two organisms of different species breed, the chromosomes do not match...not so much in a physical sense, but in a biochemical sense. The genes do not work together to create the animal as a whole as they usually would, via the proteins the genes make. No organism is made. It’s a mish-mosh a proteins fighting with each other...it’s like a protein cage bout.
However, it just so happens that the separate genes of the radish and the cabbage do work together. One gene sort of picks up where the other leaves off, creating viable offspring. Though, to create the actual plant, it did take a tiny bit of manipulation. By the end of it all, the vegetable created had 36 chromosomes, or 4 copies of each set of genetic material. (The original plants have 18 chromosomes, with 9 chromosomes to a set.) This way, each new plant had enough genetic material to create an entire plant, and not just a blob of undefined primal goo. And so...
Karpechenko bursts into Stalin’s office, grasping a strange new plant by the leaves, the roots still covered in earth.
“I have done it! I have done what you asked of me! I give you, the RABBAGE!”
Stalin jumps out of his seat in excitement, only to see disheveled scientist clutching a scraggly looking weed molting dirt all over his red carpet.
“What is this? Where is the fat red radish, where are the cabbage leaves?”
Karpechenko’s heart skips a beat, as he realizes what he's done. The unbelievable new plant he had created sported the stringy leaves of a radish, and the fine network of roots of a cabbage. It was incredible, it was inedible.
Karpechenko was to live our the rest of his days in a work camp, somewhere in the freezing cold wasteland that is Siberia. He was what we scientists call, "Fucked."
Is this story true? I’ll only tell if you want to know. Either way, I hope you enjoyed it.
Well, the story is half true. It is true that Karpechenko created the rabbage. It's not true that Stalin ordered it. However, it is true that Stalin ordered Karpechenko to Siberia...but for different reasons. Karpechenko taught genetics at Leningrad U...and genetics includes Mendelian genetics. A certain group of students, who happened to publish the school paper, criticized Karpechenko's teachings, saying that he could turn the department into "a stronghold of reactionary teachings representing, for all practical ends, the extremist theories of biology (i.e. Mendelian genetics)." Karpechenko was exiled to Siberia for his "extremist theories," along with many other Soviet geneticists. He died during his imprisonment.