09: Natural selection ( A bold prediction by Charles Darwin): The first flower… The power of smell.

It’s hard to imagine, but plants covered the surface of the earth for hundreds of millions of years before they put forth their first flower.

That was about a hundred million years ago, shortly before the dinosaurs were wiped out. Our world must’ve been a lustreless place back then, dominated by shades of green and brown. Yeah, there were giant trees, ferns, and other plant life, but the palette of nature didn’t include any shades of purple of an iris or the crimson of a red.

drab

 

 

Orchids were among the first flowering species to appear on earth, and they are the most diverse. 

 

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Bold prediction by Charles Darwin, The father of Evolution Theory…..

what was his prediction?

Darwin was particularly fascinated by the comet orchid of Madagascar, a flower whose pollen is hidden at the bottom of a very long, thin spur.

On the basis of his theory of evolution through natural selection, Darwin speculated that somewhere on the island of Madagascar, there must live flying insects with extraordinarily lengthy tongues, ones long enough to reach the pollen. No one had ever seen such a beast there, but Darwin insisted that an animal fitting this description must exist. Few people at the time believed him. It wasn’t until more than 50 years later that Darwin was proven right.

In 1903, a huge hawk moth called the Morgan’s sphinx was discovered in Madagascar. Attracted by the Comet Orchid’s scent, the moth slurps its pollen with its foot-long tongue, exactly as Darwin expected it would. It’s even more amazing that the Morgan’s sphinx was discovered when you consider that more than 90% of Madagascar’s rainforest had been destroyed. In the years since Darwin’s prediction, this moth species could have easily become extinct with all the others.

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“Every one of them holds a unique phrase of life’s poetry, written in the atoms by eons of evolution.”

 

oh, wait…! Let’s inhale deep while doing it just reminisce about the fragrance of a flower. 

 

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Ah, the fragrance of a flower… It’s one of those scents that triggers a whole constellation of associations. But how does that happen? How does a smell prompt a movie to start running in your head? it’s not something we can visualize.

Could it be a wave of energy, like light?  Or is it some kind of microscopic particle?

It’s actually a molecule.

Every odor we can sense, whether it comes from burnt toast, gasoline, or a field of lilacs, is a cloud of molecules. These molecules have particular shapes. When I inhale them, they stimulate a particular set of receptor cells in my nose. An electrical signal then travels to my brain, which identifies the scent as say, a Lilli or any other flower. Other scents are carried by different molecules with different shapes. But when I smell a flower or the smoke from a campfire or the grease from a motor gear, I’m often flooded with memories.

 

Why is it that a simple thing such as the scent of a flower can trigger powerful memories?

It has to do with the way our brains have evolved.

smell-pathway

Our sense of smell kicks in when the olfactory nerve in our brain is stimulated. That nerve is located very close to the amygdala, a structure that is integral to our experience of emotion. it’s also very close to the Hippocampus, which helps us form memories.

The network of neurons that carry the scent signal from our nose to our brains has been fine-tuned over hundreds of millions of years of evolution.

It’s a survival mechanism that can alert us to danger or guide us to safety. If you can detect the predator before he’s near enough to strike, or the fire before it traps you in the forest, you have a much better chance to survive and pass on your genes to the next generation.

Now breathe with me again…! I would like to end this with an amazing fact :

” With every breath we take, we inhale as many molecules as there are stars in all the galaxies in the visible universe.”

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