The egg that eventually became you once lay in your grandmother. This giddy fact(oid) happens because, in the womb, women develop all the eggs they will ever use. The supply gradually declines through the years to the point where no more eggs remain, no more children can be sired: menopause.
But why should fertility grind to a halt several decades before the body gives out? Why lose the ability to reproduce? If life is all about making babies and turning them into baby-making machines themselves (speaking biologically, not philosophically), why run out of eggs but carry on living?
Today, I want to revisit one of the most wonderful science papers I’ve ever read…
Because school kids getting published in a mainstream science journal is nothing short of brilliant.
From birth, all the eggs a woman will ever get are stored in her ovaries. Her stock of eggs diminishes throughout life – some mature during ovulation, while others die as a kind of collateral damage, spurring the process along. Her cache dwindles until too few eggs remain to maintain fertility. This point is menopause and it is inevitable.
Darkside, like so much, begins with a scream.
A runaway train barrels down the tracks, bound for the bottom of a lake. In swoops Ethics Man. He pulls a lever, switches the train onto another track, saving a carriage full of people. The train runs over a boy standing on the other track, killing him. Did Ethics Man make the moral choice?
“There are five elements: earth, water, air, fire and garlic,” an old sign hanging in London’s famous Borough Market once said, quoting French chef Louis Diat. Perhaps ancient European hunter-gatherers would have agreed.
Archaeologists recently dug up evidence of spices in fossilised pots from up to 6,100 years ago. Traces of garlic mustard seeds lined the insides of pots at three sites in what are now Denmark and Germany.
In this new series, I take a relaxed, science-in-bed-on-a-Sunday look at experiments, ideas, theories or fields of research that just knock me a little bit sideways.
You awaken in a darkened room. To the east, a glimmer of brightness through a doorway. You are a mouse. Do you step into the light?