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by Jan Sand
2006-11-02 10:37:11
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In spite of what I learned in grammar school about red, blue and yellow being the primary colors, the latest fashion is red, green, and blue. The first group, of course, deals with those weakly colored wax crayons we scribbled with at that time and the latter group has to do with spectral basics when combining colored light, which we see on our TV screens and computer monitors.

By odd coincidence, those colors are entangled with the essential chemicals of life. We vertebrates require our oxygen fix to give our tissues their zip and the fluid that sees to that reaction is blood whose very useful component is hemoglobin, a molecule that sucks up oxygen in our lungs where it is plentiful, so long as we make the effort to keep breathing and it doles out oxygen where all the capillaries distribute it to our suffocating cells.

Animals like us are basically a mess of tubes and fibers with a few solid calcium based solids to keep us from slumping to the floor in a gory pile. Once we liberate ourselves from the continuous squash of gravity and become a space dwelling species we might well toss aside our bones as useless clumsy baggage and loosely wobble through our space dwellings like slugs or, perhaps the muscular octopi.

Octopi can squeeze through the smallest apertures and a spaceship equipped with small holes between its cabins could dispense with large doorways. Doors thereby would be the size of bottle caps and screwed tight for privacy while we take a nap in a convenient bowl. This, of course, would be a return to a much earlier condition where everybody and the girl next door was slime.

I have never heard of the sexual proclivities of slime. It may have been straight or gay or some other fascinating variation but I doubt that slime has much pornographic value today. The religious right of all cultures might be shocked out of complacency and prefer to welcome monkeys as their remote ancestors rather than contemplate the sexual perversity of slime.

But to return to blood, the reason it is red is that hemoglobin is a compound based on iron which gives it its ruddy hue. When it is deprived of oxygen it turns blue but, like quarks which are never seen unmarried, when we view blood in the open air it is red.

Anybody who has wrestled with a giant lobster wherein a certain amount of damage has resulted will be aware that although his own wounds bleed red, a wounded lobster bleeds blue. Hemoglobin may be a nice sauce for a meal for a lobster but his circulatory system uses blue hemocyanin to do for him what red blood does for us.

The circulatory system of arthropods, which includes lobsters, crabs, spiders, shrimp, grasshoppers, dragonflies, beetles and a host of others, is an open system with multiple inline pumps pushing the fluid around in an open body cavity. Although this works adequately for body sizes up to a certain limit, it does not compare in efficiency to the vertebrate system, so insects never get to grow to the same sizes as vertebrates. Those giant ants and spiders that regularly terrorize heroines into the arms of heroes in Hollywood are just not physiologically possible unless their internal anatomy is radically different from the average spider and ant guys. Their blood is blue because it is based on a copper compound.

I could dye my hair green (not all that unusual today) and Kermit can be mentally depressed by his skin color, but this verdancy is in no way essential to the basic life function. Our sessile friends, who capture the light of our local star and build all sorts of fascinating and useful and essential compounds from the local supply of elements with its energy, have within their cells the equivalent of hemoglobin or hemocyanin. It is called chlorophyll and is green because the base metal involved is magnesium.

For a long time the efficiency of chlorophyll in converting sunlight into stored energy in plants was a mystery but to a degree it is now being unraveled. Ideally, one would think it worthwhile to incorporate chlorophyll into our own system where we might munch on sunlight or use a bright psychedelic light display to satisfy a basic appetite. But I doubt the process would be rewarding enough to supply energy for average animal activity.

We are, it seems, indelibly red.

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winsum2006-11-03 16:46:46
me again., I love his combining of science withdisrespectful humor. 'brilliant. and me still smiling.

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