(if you’re here for the first time look at Blogs 1 -16 in earlier posts )
The leviathan of love swalloweth the master of reason and destroyeth the lord of knowledge.
The Seven Valleys
“Gosh, Maddie, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to what it’s like walking next to you,” Lisa said, as they walked down State Street.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the way all the guys gawk at you. Look at that.” She touched Maddie’s arm and motioned with her head, whispering through her teeth. “Look at that one, over there. Oh! He walked into the parking meter.”
“Girl, you’re so silly! I’m sure they’re looking at you as much as they’re looking at me,” Maddie shrugged it off.
They were almost at the University Square when their attention was captured by the increasing sounds of a commotion. At the entrance to one of the buildings flanking the square, Maddie saw several scores of African American students. From this gathering emanated the rhythmic sounds of a chant and the accompanying shuffling and stomping of a step dance.
“Let’s get a closer look,” Lisa said, excited, tugging on Maddie’s arm.
They pushed their way through the crowd gathered around the sides of the courtyard. In the middle, several dozen young people, dressed in purple and yellow sweat suits, performed the intricate moves of the step dance. Wave after wave came forward and then receded, or reversed its march from side to side, in time with the clapping and loud chanting. The stomping reverberated on the pavement like a marching army, setting up a rhythm irresistible to passersby.
Maddie’s pulse quickened. Their loudness was like a magnificent call of defiance. Like war whoops in another culture, or a chant to ward off evil.
But she became aware, after a while, that they were not performing to the crowd. The group of black students (who appeared to be mainly undergraduates) was completely self-contained. Instead of being a performance it appeared, rather, to be an identity-building exercise. It was a closing of ranks, to shut out all foreignness and bring to a fever pitch the Blackness that distinguished them. A line from Julius Lester’s book intruded into her thoughts. Something about “your Blackness will not save you.”
Her gaze went from the militant magnificence of the step dancing, to the puzzled, wary look in the eyes of some of the white spectators. She knew with pristine clarity why this nagged at her, why she couldn’t wholeheartedly give in to endorsing their behavior.
She did not begrudge them the solidarity they derived from their effort, or the cultural pride they displayed. It was their self-segregation that bothered her. It was their retreat onto familiar ground that grated on her. Because in a way, it was an admission of defeat; an admission that there was nothing safe for them outside the bounds of their segregation. And regardless of how reality-based this was, she felt this loss of hope would not serve them well.
She communicated none of these thoughts to Lisa, who kept raving about how cool the “dance” was, on the long walk back to the department. When they split up in the hallway Lisa said, “Don’t forget about the volleyball game tomorrow.”
“All right, I hear you,” Maddie answered, turning toward her own office.
It was early evening yet and she intended to put in a few more hours on the statistical analysis[i] of her data. She was so close to getting some results she could taste it. After researching the technique for two-dimensional protein separation[ii] she had spent countless hours de-bugging the procedure.
“This was supposed to be easy. Easy, my foot!” she complained.
Finally, when she actually did a run of the procedure, she took photos of the resulting gels. Now she had the photos of all fourteen lines spread out on the desk for comparison. Careful scrutiny revealed lines with one, two, three and four subunits[iii].
“Yes!!” she shouted, to the deserted office, realizing this was exactly what she and Dr. Gates had talked about. But it was fantastic to actually have the positive results; it was no longer a hypothesis.
“Okay, I’m going to name you guys now, one subunit is going to be 34A, two subunits will be 34B, three subunits will be 34C and four will be 34D.” Now she had to enter the data in the computer and see if there was any difference in the level of resistance of the lines, relative to the number of subunits.
It didn’t take her long to enter the new information and she was just at the point of running the statistical analysis when she decided she could do with a cup of coffee. Her eyes were feeling pasty. Alex, who had been working in the lab earlier, had left half a pot behind. She put two packets of sugar and practically half the jar of non-dairy creamer in to disguise the taste. She stuck the cup in the microwave to heat. She grimaced at the bitterness when she took a sip.
“Yuck, yuck, yuck! Sipping stale coffee on the midnight watch, Maddie,” she commented. “And talking to yourself, to boot. Is this what the life of a scientist entails?” She sighed and then gave a sarcastic little laugh. “What’s the matter, Maddie? The solitary journey getting on your nerves?”
Coffee in hand, she sat down to her task with somewhat tempered enthusiasm. For the next hour she poured over a column of data, scanning for a connection between the protein variants and the resistance levels. When she was done, she had a neat little table. Band 34C had the highest resistance level, as indicated by a mean rating of 1.1. Band 34B was next, with a rating of 2.3. Band 34D had a rating of 3.3 and band 34A showed hardly any resistance at all, with a rating of 4.5. This was only slightly better than the control lines that did not contain band 34, which had a susceptibility rating of 5.0. All the differences were statistically significant.
“God! This is fascinating,” she breathed, completely in awe. In her wildest dreams she could not have foreseen these results. These were all wild bean lines, found during germplasm[iv] collecting expeditions all over Mexico and Central America, which she had obtained from seed banks maintained by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. What the data was revealing was that mutations had occurred in the same gene, perhaps over thousands of years, which had conferred increased levels of resistance to the pathogen[v]. No—perhaps mutations had occurred in the other direction, conferring increased levels of susceptibility. One could only postulate. The most puzzling thing though, was that the cultivated forms did not contain band 34 at all. That gene was missing from domesticated beans. If band 34 conferred a competitive advantage, why was it absent from the cultivated lines?
Perhaps beans had been domesticated first, and then the mutations had occurred in the wild lines. This was no doubt the most probable case. She couldn’t wait until the next morning to show Dr. Gates the results.
When she left the office it was well after midnight and she was feeling quite a rush. It buoyed her past the first two blocks of the five-block trek to the Vet. Sci. parking lot where she kept the car. The buildings cast their shadows upon the cold pavement. Her breath rose like smoke in the cold air, and she looked at the solitary shape of the distant moon. Then some sound in the alleys reminded her of how much she hated walking this route alone at night. She’d done it at least a hundred times but it was always the same. The deserted street, the eerie shadows spooked her.
“Creepy!” she muttered. When she got to her car she had her keys ready but she peered inside the windows before opening the door and slipping inside. It was a long-standing habit.
[i] Statistical Analysis – Comparing different lines to see if they behave differently, using the tools of statistics and probability.
[ii] Two dimensional protein separation (2-D electrophoresis) –Running the seed extract on one gel, in order to separate one protein from all the other proteins (1-dimensional electrophoresis), and then cutting out the protein band and placing it on another gel (2-D electrophoresis). While the first run separates the seed proteins based on their different molecular weights, the sec!ond run separates the protein into its subunits.
[iii] Subunit – a fragment of a protein.
[iv] Germplasm – a collection of lines and varieties of a plant (in this case, of beans).
[v] Pathogen – a disease causing organism (virus, bacteria, fungus, etc).
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