In class today, we continued to discuss Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean B. Carroll. Specifically, we dove into chapters 8 and 9 which pertain to butterfly wing spots and zebra stripes. Although Carroll has received much criticism for focusing so much on these two topics, we discussed why this information might be important and, more importantly to some, why it might be beautiful.
When applying for research funds, many organizations ask you to provide an explanation of why your research is important and how it can be applied to the well-being of humans. Although this may seem sort of ignorant to some, it is the main focus of much of society. In Carroll's book, butterfly wing spots and zebra stripes may seem unimportant, we discussed many reasons as to why it is important and applicable to the human population. For example, the main idea behind the unique patterns of animals is the ability of genetic switches to control expression in different body parts. While this may result in a spot on a butterfly wing, it could also apply to male baldness patterns or even more compelling mutations.
Although it is necessary to describe the importance in order to satisfy research funding organizations and much of society, many others are far more baffled with the idea that biologists like to research such things. So, a better question for these folks to answer would be, why is this beautiful? Despite the incredible patterns that zebra stripes and butterfly spots can display, there are many more intriguing aspects of such research. For example, when looking at two butterflies, they may display nearly the same pattern. However, they may be completely separate species of butterflies. So, how did they develop this patterning and what is it's significance? Only research will tell us.
As a biologist, it is oftentimes hard to explain to people why something can be equally important and intriguing if it does not have a direct connection to the human species. In order to continue research in peace or fuel motivation for research, it might be useful to think about why is this important? and why is this beautiful? Or sometimes, in the words of a wise student, it might be useful to respond by saying, 'In the future, we might want to learn how to become pigmented in patterns like the butterfly,' and that will probably be enough.