Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The One Trillion

The new Tree of Life. It's a fu0kton of a microbiome. 

I used to think $20 was a lot of money. I thought of it in terms of how many cherry cordials at Trifles candy shop in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh I could purchase for that amount. There were filled with a slight amount of alcohol. Mostly the hint of transgression.

Get ready for a really big number of small things.  It's so far beyond the amount of cherry cordials an eleven-year-old could eat, and the transgressions available in a puny human life span: It's one trillion.  (No one can transgress that much. Not even Casanova.)

It's the new estimate of the number of species on Earth. 

Researchers at Indiana University -- mathematicians, ecologists, microbiologists, big heads and algorithms -- crunched some big numbers and concluded that, "based on universal scaling laws applied to large datasets," there are an estimated one trillion species on Earth. 

Now here's where I must hold your horses. Be still, breath. Heartbeat, be slow and steady, heartbeat, do not freak and geek out with awe and enthusiasm because  -- wait for it --

drumroll, please:

only one one-thousandth of 1 percent of these species have been identified. 

Even with my rudimentary math (see: fractions make me scratch my head, unless it's the division of dessert), but even with my rudimentary math, I can tell you with certainty that the "analysis suggests" "99.999 percent of species" are "still unknown to us" and  "still left for use to find and classify" and "it seems pretty unlikely that we'll ever be able to catalogue them all."

With that, I fall to my fainting couch like the good Victorianesque natural history dabbler that I am -- collector of feathers and shells. The world! The world! Le sigh! 

I will require revival with a phial of smelling salts, because: the unknown. Magnum mysterium. It beckons.  Like so many round chocolate-enrobed small cherry cordials rubbing and rolling against each other in my pocket bulging with purpose. It is the sweetness of future delight. Bacteria. Microbes.

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