‘…biology. That’s all about yucky, squishy things.’ – Dr. Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory.
I haven’t experimented much with typography in the past so I have set myself the project of illustrating quotes or lyrics in my spare time. This outline for this illustration was drawn out over three weeks ago but I’ve only just finished it, partly because I have been working on a project for the Noel’s Arms Freehouse but mostly because I have no tablet and so am having to use a bog-standard computer mouse and the polygonal lasso tool!
My aim for this illustration was to cram as many elements of Biology as I could into the one picture but the main focus is obviously flora and fauna so there are quite a few different species of plants and animals shoved in there. However, I’ve also included some key processes and theories that occur in nature as well:
Genetics, Variation and Heredity
DNA is the backbone of every living organism so it was essential to have it in the illustration, plus I enjoy drawing it. DNA is made up of two sugar-phosphate backbones coiled antiparallel around each other to create a double helix. The nitrogenous bases, often referred to as the ‘rungs’ of the DNA ladder connect the two. Their are 4 different bases in total, adenine, cytosine, thymine and guanine and these can occur in any order along the DNA chain, except that adenine can only connect to thymine and guanine can only connect to cytosine. Simplified, the order in which these pairs occur determines what amino acids are created, which in turn decides what protein is made. The protein synthesis in our bodies is responsible for everything from determining our hair colour to producing enough haemoglobin to carry oxygen around our bodies.
The pea plant in the bottom left sector of the image is tied to a particular person, the ‘Father of Genetics’ Gregor Mendel. In the 19th Century, before ‘genetics’ had been discovered, Mendel noticed the subtle differences in organisms and decided to carry out experiments into heredity focusing on pea plants. At the time, the accepted process of offspring receiving their parents physical features was called ‘blending’. It was believed that a child inherited half of its physical features from the mother and half from the father which is why a child resembled both parents. This theory was disproved when Mendel crossbred tall pea plants with short pea plants and created a new generation entirely made up of tall pea plants. When this generation of plants interbred, both tall and short plants were created. Although not realised at the time, Mendel had discovered dominant and recessive alleles. Mendel published his work but because of the highly religious viewpoints at the time, his work was dismissed and only rediscovered in the early 20th century.
At this point, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was widely accepted by the scientific community, his study of the Galapagos finches and their varying beak shapes possibly being the most well-known example of the creatures he studied. He discovered that the finches had evolved to have different shaped beaks to match each island’s main food source.
Since being accepted, the theory of evolution has studied voraciously and new discoveries are being made all the time. Dinosaur discoveries are never too far from the news and paleontology has led to many theories of how modern day animals may have evolved. The example I have used is the chicken, which is believed to have evolved from small meat-eating dinosaurs such as Compsognathus.
A particularly intriguing process of nature is that of transformation, or metamorphosis, seen mostly in insects but also in amphibians. The common insect life cycle is made up of 4 stages, egg, larva, pupa and adult. In my illustration I have shown the metamorphosis of maggots to casters to flies and also the transformation of a caterpillar to a chrysalis to a butterfly. The maggot scenario also shows the skull of a ram, showing the stage of death in every organism’s life cycle.
Possibly the area that Dr. Sheldon Cooper would find the yuckiest and squishiest thing in Biology! In a way, the process of reproduction in flora and fauna is pretty similar across the board and can be summed up as the connection of genetics from two separate organisms. However, both the distribution of seeds in plants and the birth processes of animals vary greatly. Plant seeds can be contained in fruit to be eaten and transported by animals, or be expelled to be carried on the air or simply be dropped from the plant to grow nearby.
The birth process of animals can be just as varied as some species are live bearers while other lay eggs or spawn. A particularly interesting ‘egg’ is that produced by certain species of sharks, rays and skates. This is known as a ‘mermaid’s purse’.
This is a leathery pouch that is the same as an egg in the way that it contains a yolk which the young animal uses as a food source. If there is a Sea Life Centre near you that has a breeding programme for these animals, it is worth going to see any mermaids purses they may have on display. The purses are usually held in a small tank and illuminated from behind. The translucent nature of the purse allows the viewer to see the developing organism inside and quite often the purses will be lined up to chronologically so that visitors can see the different stages of the animals’ growth.
The world of microbiology easily contains as much variation as the natural world that can be seen with the naked eye. This area of biology was a bit awkward to include in the illustration, so I stuck to magnifying the blood to show the red blood cells and, unfortunately for whoever’s blood it is, the virus also present in the blood stream. The microscopic world really is fascinating and I hope to create some illustrations focusing on bacteria, plankton and spores in the future.
The weird and wonderful
Nature does occasionally spit out some animals that just don’t seem to follow the normal rules of life. Nudibranchs are my favourite example. Until a couple of years ago, I never realised how many variations of sea slug there were in the world’s oceans but they really are amazing creatures. For example, a variety of sea slugs called aeolids are able to digest the stinging cells of sea anemones without coming to harm. However, instead of digesting them, the cells are passed through the slug’s body to sit just below the skin where they still bear their stinging qualities. If the sea slug is then attacked by another animal and it’s skin broken, the stinging cells of the anemone will sting the attacker and (hopefully) save the slug.
Another species of slug called Elysia chlorotica produces much of its energy through photosynthesis. The slug eats algae but instead of digesting the chloroplasts that produce the plant’s food, it utilises them, allowing them to photosynthesise within its body and thus producing food for the slug.
Sea slugs are one of my favourite animals and in my second year of university, I created a children’s book called ‘How the Sea Slug got his Suit‘. I’m planning to rewrite it a little and hopefully get it published in the future.
Sheldon’s favourite animal
And finally, how could I create a Big Bang Theory-inspired image without including Soft Kitty?
Thanks for browsing through this post, I hope you’ve enjoyed the little facts throughout and I hope I’ve inspired you to discover more about the natural world!