Sex Before Life (Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 4)

9 Apr

This is the final entry in a series of short essays about the origins of sex, inspired by my mentor, the biologist and geoscientist Lynn Margulis,  one of my favorite philosophers, Michel Serres.

Part3 was about the the ultimate sexual merger: Symbiosis.

“Life superlives.”

– Michel Serres

RNALife Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 4

Sex Before Life

We end this series with a story from before the beginning.

Once upon a time,

biology tells us,

Before bacteria…

Before the superliving hypersex of symbiosis…

Before life…

the Earth was teeming with bonds of sugars, phosphates, and nitrogenous substances.

These bonds, or ribonucleic acid (RNA), huddled into themselves, and stretched their ways throughout the surface of the planet.

For these molecules, language was form. When they encounter each other, they strained to understand each other through strange acts of translation. They wrapped themselves up into each other, and this act of language, this braiding of being, created new forms.

A mysterious correspondence: an exchange of material, packed with meaning. This was the exuberant world full of RNA, and this was the birth of sex.

This story provides us with a new and sideways answer to the old question of chicken and egg. Did two chickens having sex make the fertilized egg from which another chicken sprung?

Or did the first chicken spring from a pre-existing egg?

When we look into the origins of sex, we discover an unexpected truth.

Q. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

A. Sex.

chknegg

Sources

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. What Is Sex? New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Serres, Michel. Variations on the Body. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012.

3 Responses to “Sex Before Life (Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 4)”

  1. ric romano April 9, 2016 at 11:06 pm #

    Dude, you conquered the Chicken and the Egg! What’s next? There isn’t anything you cannot do!!!!!

  2. Shaun C. April 13, 2016 at 5:41 pm #

    This was an inspiring series Conner. Now I will be reading Margulis and Sagan over the summer. Really appreciate your courage and your thoughtfulness.

  3. marayakarena June 9, 2016 at 3:48 am #

    haha, this is awesome!

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