Friday, 14 November 2014

New Model Organisms

One of my projects at the moment is having a look at some of the wild and weedy legumes growing in my neighbourhood.  Here's some Medicago sativa, a.k.a. alfalfa or lucerne. It's a very important crop especially for fodder and makes great sprouts, not so common in the wild round these parts. I found it growing by the doorway of an industrial paintshop down by the Waters of Leith.

It's also a 'model organism' - a term that denotes a species that gets unusually prodded and pointed at and stared at by scientists.

I didn't set out to draw model organisms - scientist pals often lament that everyone studies one or two species and knows loads about them and next to nothing about all the others we live alongside. Never mind, sez I, it's not as if we'll know a right lot more about any of 'em by the time I've finished with them anyway.

Here's another one, a Nicotiana benthamiana. Unrelated project, unrelated plant, this one is a gentle tobacco relative that is always getting experimented on by virologists because it has so few defenses. 

I can't tell you what we're doing with it because it's Top Secret. 
(Ok it isn't really, just a Bit Secret.  I just said that to sound important. Look! There's going to be Red Lab Coats! Artists love lab coats because it makes us feel legitimate which we don't normally get to feel. It's one of the downsides to having an independent practice and nobody enjoys it but you just have to suck it up. Or get a job. Some artists try to compensate by making grotesquely inflated claims about their achievement and value but I don't think they should bother, do you? Anyway, a coloured lab coat scores extra points, the higher the biosecurity level, the more points you get. Perhaps we should put our Labcoat Kudos Points on our CVs instead of the grossly inflated claims. )

Anyway, this I can say: there will be viruses. Here's the babies in the nursery, 

 an infection-contraption
and an infected plant
 and a poorly one.

What will I add to these discussions about these so-much discussed plants?  Is there actually anything special about a picture that has been made by human hands, with this particular, direct, continuous bodily contact? Aside from it being easier to do certain ways of ordering ideas, prioritising types of information, ordering forms I mean.  I feel that there are special powers of storytelling but I couldn't tell you what exactly.

Romance, at any rate. Not that the work of scientists isn't work of passion, of care, of love of all kinds, it is of course, often profoundly so,  though it does sometimes lose a bit in the presentation. But I think it is actually very hard to do colouring-in without making that stuff explicit, visible, and readable.  Regardless of whether you think you're being "objective" or not.  What do you think?