A Woolly Future

My youngest son has come up with a phenomenal idea for a children's book, and I hope nobody beats him to the execution of the idea. He wants to write a fiction book about a boy who brings a woolly mammoth to life and keeps it as a pet. The book would also contain actual facts about the woolly mammoth.

I informed him that he was in luck; just last week, Harvard scientists (I knew that the fact that they were from Harvard would grab his attention; he heard last year that it was the oldest and the best and most important in the U.S., and therefore wants to attend one day) announced that woolly mammoths would be brought back to life by splicing DNA from the extinct mammoth with elephant genes. He was so excited--maybe the woolly mammoth would become his new favorite animal, even more than the panda. He wanted to know so much about DNA.

We discussed how DNA are the building blocks of life, that, under a microscope, they are shaped as a double-helix, which I tried to describe to him as looking like a twisting ribbon. I told him how DNA could be found at the root of a single hair, with a swab of the inner cheek, or by scraping a piece of skin. And that DNA is like the code to a computer program. As I discussed this with him, it reminded me how awesome--in the literal sense of the word--it is that something so microscopic could be linked to something so complex and vibrant. DNA makes us more than matter. Again, in the literal sense.

Today, we went to the Museum of Natural History. We stood before the life-sized replica of the woolly mammoth, of course, but also before impressions of trilobites, small arthropods that lived for 300 million years on earth--more than twice as long as the dinosaurs--but are now extinct. And in the Rose Space Center, we learned that the universe is thought to be 14 billion years old, that we see stars that died out billions of years ago as they were so long before the arrival of humans, let alone human comprehension. And we learned how scientists managed to decode so much of the vastness of space and time.

And after our feet hurt, and our brains were tired, we headed to the museum gift shop, and pretended that our pressing matters mattered.