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Texas : Features : Columns : Letters From North America :

Some things are better left alone

by Peary Perry
Peary Perry

I think I've heard it said that some things are better left alone.

Here's the deal, up in Kansas at something called the Kansas Underground Salt Museum they've discovered an organism about 250 million years old. And that's not all; they've succeeded in getting it to reawaken. As in bringing it back to life. You got it; they have located some species of bacteria that has been locked inside of a Kansas salt cavern for those 250 million years.

Better still, they think they might have found some other strains of the stuff that could be 275 million years old. They said all of the bacteria that has been found is older than the dinosaurs.

Let's think about this for a moment.

The dinosaurs and a lot of other species died off sometime long ago, right? I mean we don't see a lot of prehistoric animals or reptiles running around the planet except in the movies. So what killed them off? Who knows? There are all kinds of theories, such as some giant asteroid or comet having hit the earth and blocking out the sun for a thousand years and so on. We certainly don't have any written records left over from that time frame to research and talk about, do we? I mean Uglue the European Neanderthal didn't look around one day and notice that a lot of the animals had just disappeared and then went back to his cave and jotted down a few notes expressing his concern and thoughts on this subject.

Nope, Uglue was probably out chasing some dinner for the little woman who needed some more skins to cover the holes in their new dwelling. She also needed more meat since her brothers and their wives had just moved in with them. She also wanted Uglue to start bringing in more firewood each day since her mother was coming to live with them as well and she needed the fire going due to her arthritis. Of course Uglue didn't know to call his mother in laws condition arthritis.... he just called it ... the old woman's condition. Actually he didn't even say this out loud since his wife or mother in law had a tendency to hit him rather sharply over the head with a large femur left over from a previous feast.

Our man Uglue spent his days out in the forests and woods trying to stay alive. He had no money, no currency of any kind and no government, which in hindsight was a blessing he wasn't even aware of. Their voting process was fairly simple; the guy with the biggest stick usually was the leader. Oil and tar bubbled up freely from the ground and Uglue thought of it as a nuisance and wished he had more water. What good was this black stuff anyway? The concept of land ownership had not been invented so Uglue did not have the ability to stake out his claim for future generations. If he had done so, his family would have been much better off today and could quit their jobs in the cheese factory.

But here we are some 250 million years later. I probably don't have my time lines correct, but who cares ... I'm making this up anyway. And now we have some people in Kansas who have brought some ancient bacteria back to life.

My question is, how do they know this stuff is safe to bring back to life? Maybe this is the very thing that did in the dinosaurs. How would they know? What would they do if it escaped and got into the air and started killing off everyone? I'm all for science, but I've always been afraid of rockets from the moon and Mars bringing back strange stuff that could kill us all. It could happen, couldn't it? I suppose if a large number of people up in Kansas start dying off, then we should start to be concerned. I'll try to keep tabs on that in the coming weeks. Let me know if you hear anything.

Anyway, I suppose old Uglue had more to worry about than something such as a virus or bacteria or even the dinosaurs. His significant other just told him that her father had decided to come back home and live with them.

He heard they had a nice cave, plenty of food and a good warm fire.

Uglue is looking forward to the day when beer gets invented.

Peary Perry
Letters From North America
June 12, 2008 column
Syndicated weekly in 80 newspapers
Comments go to pperry@austin.rr.com

 
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