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Inspiration from my biology teacher


'I'm among the people who cannot live without nature'
Jan Klein Scientist
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This is the other extreme. On the one extreme I'm among the people who cannot live without nature and who feels, if I were not a scientist, I would say almost a mystic relationship to natural things. And on the other are the people who don't know what we are talking about when we talk about the need to preserve nature. It might be that this is really a genetic difference and that will lead to development of two different species... human species. If that happens my recommendation would be, since the people who don't care about nature are happy when they are surrounded by rocks and concrete, well let's send them to the moon and have then a colony established there and they should be quite happy there, they don't need to worry about anything growing in their garden, weeds or anything else. The feeling that I experience when I'm in nature is very similar to that I experience when I'm exposed to art. For me standing in the Sistine Chapel and looking at the frescos, at the ceiling, is the same experience as when I look at a flower, especially a flower that I have never seen before. It's a creation that I'm experiencing, once it's a creation of a human being and another time it's a creation of forces of nature, of evolution, of millions of years of evolution and it doesn't need to be a plant that we all find beautiful, roses or tulips or peonies and so on, actually my favourite plant is a weed. It's called Anagallis arvensis; I think the English name is Scarlet Pimpernel. It's a very tiny plant that I used to see when we were harvesting grain.  At that time we still were harvesting grain with a scythe and the kids had to help by gathering the grains and tying them into groups. And that's backbreaking work because the whole day you are bent over and you are gathering and you are in the stubble, but in the stubble I would see these little plants, always bent down with the head, I could see these little plants with a tiny, beautiful scarlet flowers. And eventually I learnt that it's called Anagallis arvensis and it still is my favourite plant. I realize I'm not the only one who likes that flower and the other day when I went through books, art books of one Czech painter, Josef Mánes, I found it depicted a beautiful picture of Anagallis arvensis - Scarlet Pimpernel. So anything... doesn't have to be spectacular but a creation of nature, a bird, a fish or anything else has... is for me an ecstatic experience and emotional experience, I would say.

Born in 1936, Jan Klein is a Czech-American immunologist who co-founded the modern science of immunogenetics – key to understanding illness and disease. He is the author or co-author of over 560 scientific publications and of seven books including 'Where Do We Come From?' which examines the molecular evolution of humans. He graduated from the Charles University at Prague in 1955, and received his MS in Botany from the same school in 1958. From 1977 to his retirement in 2004, he was the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biology at Tübingen, Germany.

Listeners: Colm O'hUigin

Colm O'hUigin is a senior staff scientist at the US National Cancer Institute. He received his BA, MSc and PhD at the Genetics Department of Trinity College, Dublin where he later returned as a lecturer. He has held appointments at the Center for Population and Demographic Genetics, UT Houston, and at the University of Cambridge. As an EMBO fellow, he moved in 1990 to the Max Planck Institute for Biology in Tübingen, Germany to work with Jan Klein and lead a research group studying the evolutionary origins of immune molecules, of teeth, trypanosomes and of species.

Tags: Anagallis arvensis, Scarlet Pimpernel, Josef Mánes

Duration: 4 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008