About trees and ants

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I heard on the radio the other day that scientists have mapped the largest genome to date, eight times larger than the human genome, and that it belongs to a certain species of pine.

The size of a genome is often measured in so called base pairs. A human has 3.2 billion base pairs, a horse 2.7 billion. A common ant where we live is the red wood ant. These little fellows has only about 0.3 billion base pairs. It is tempting to believe that the size of the genome is proportional to complexity and intelligence of a species, when thinking about these numbers. However scientists say that there are a lot of so called junk DNA in a genome; only a minor part of the base pairs are actually doing anything useful. It seems a little evasive, but since the now measured pine has 25 billion base pairs, maybe it is so.
Windflower Dancer and our youngest daughter often go out riding on ancient trails thru the woods around our farm. Trails that were made by the deer and the moose, long before humans first ventured this way thousands of years ago. Windflower is a fresh mount, a Nokota and a very special horse. She is curious and self-aware; it is a good thing to let a horse choose the path. She easily maneuvers the difficult pathways, always evaluating where to best place her feet. In time she will be a trusty trail partner in a way that only Nokota horses can.
I walk behind at a close distance to be at hand if needed. As we ride along the trail I begin to ponder; what if we are wrong, maybe every base pair of a genome actually means something… something we are not yet aware of. The ants are very clever as they build complex societies, but what does an ant know about human intelligence and what we can accomplish in terms of communication, technology and philosophy?

My brain seems to work best with numbers, so in my mind I list the size of different genomes and ponder on;

Ant 0.3
Horse 2.7
Human 3.2
Tree 25.0

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Suppose an ant cannot possibly even imagine the intelligence of a human; how can a human comprehend what a tree can do?

If trees were eight times smarter than we, would we ever know about it?

At first glance a tree seems very simple in its design compared to a human, but isn’t it true that simplicity is significant of smart solutions, rather than complexity?

Isn’t the shortest mathematical formula, E equals m c squared, the most genius one?

A human would destroy its own habitat without a second thought, but a tree never would.

What if trees uphold the highest level of knowledge in philosophy?

I stumbled on a twig, but quickly regained my balance and thought; Well, maybe it is just junk DNA after all…or maybe not.


11 thoughts on “About trees and ants

  1. I love your thought process and questioning. What a fun idea! I read that plants have a certain pheromone that can allow them to communicate with each other, even signaling danger. It’s so fascinating to think about what we don’t know. Great post.


  2. You sound like me…a biologist as well as a horseman. You are correct about trees having a larger genome than humans. There are aquatic animals called ‘sea squirts’ that have a genome three times the size of humans.
    Trees are smarter than we…as you note, trees haven’t destroyed the planet. We have. But don’t feel too badly..we are destroying the biome that WE need, but things will survive. Trees, plants, insects, all will adapt to the new world, one that we won’t be able to function in.
    I’m sorry to say this, but as a whole, our species is pretty disgusting.
    As for ‘junk DNA”…it’s not junk. It’s just cards that haven’t been played, yet.


  3. Your post is an interesting read. I like the idea that world and nature are full of concepts the human cannot grasp (or explain). I mean, how must it be like to be an oak tree, several hundred years old? All the things he must have witnessed. The more we know the bigger our respect for our surrounding should become, I think.


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