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4th October, 2010

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The dark side of asparagus

If you've ever eaten fresh asparagus you know just how delightful a gastronomic experience asparagus can be, especially if you have mastered the elusive art of making Hollandaise sauce with which to grace it. But most asparagus foodies know that a less-than-pleasant price must be paid in exchange for the gustatory pleasure - odorous urine. Post-asparagus urine usually contains smelly sulfurous compounds that most people find quite distasteful. Note the emphasis just placed on "most" and "usually"; some people don't notice any odor after they have eaten asparagus. As reported in a Science News article "Genetic Differences in Sense of Smell Identified Through Asparagus Urine Odor",

. up until now, it has been unclear whether this is because these individuals do not produce the odor or because they cannot smell it.

A recent breakthrough by scientists from the Monell Center has shown that both explanations are true:

. approximately eight percent of the subjects tested did not produce the odorous substance, while six percent were unable to smell the odor.

These experts in chemical sensory perception pursued the mystery further, only to find that "the inability to smell asparagus odor was linked to genetic variation within a family of olfactory receptors." What does all this go to show? Simple: individuals vary! (It's a hard job stating the obvious, but somebody has to do it.) Additionally, we are powerless to change our inheritance-driven cans and can'ts. Much to his disgust, the author is the only member of his family who cannot curl his tongue. Six months of hard work with the help of a personal tongue trainer failed to make any progress at all.

Let's get serious. Variety stands out as one of nature's most characteristic features. When Darwin stumbled upon this ubiquitous truism he drew one of the most erroneous conclusions ever reached: variations have arisen and been recorded in nature's blueprint by. drum roll. mutations and natural selection. Why anybody should insist that an intelligent creator would choose to mass produce uniformly-dressed clones rather than devise numerous variations on a theme lies beyond the author's ability to grasp. Anyway, the point being made here is this: the universality of considerable natural variation within many species of animals and plants suggests that the Creator loves variety.

Just why He designed numerous variants in some species, such as domestic dogs, and only minor variants in others, such as elephants, must remain for the time being in the realm of pure speculation.

Of considerable interest is the observation that one species in particular - Homo sapiens - exhibits enormous variety. Yes, the peak of creation, the object of the divine plan of salvation, the creature with which Jesus Christ longs to commune, has more built-in diversity than Imelda Marcos's shoe collection. The differences apply not just to skin and physique but, even more, to temperament, interests, abilities and personality. I refuse to quote the old cliché "no two people are identical". God could, if He desired, have made us to reproduce just like most sci-fi aliens do, creating a boring race of look-alikes. But He chose instead to populate the world with billions of unique characters, all of whom ". differ from [one] another" (1 Cor. 4:7).

This remarkable fact shows us at least two things about God. First, it witnesses as powerfully as any aspect of creation does to the limitlessness of His ingenuity and power. How did He do it? What makes one person a brilliant mathematician and another a gifted violinist, and so on ad infinitum? What makes me an introvert and you an extrovert? Explain it if you can; but you can't. Sure, the differences can be partly explained by variations in brain development, but that is far from the full story. Here's a prediction: psychologists will never come up with a model that fully solves the mystery of human personality.

Second, as mentioned earlier, we are probably on safe grounds to conclude that God cherishes variety. Those with a philosophical bent may wish to explore the thought that God Himself displays endless variety within Himself. That one being could be both fat and thin seems inherently absurd, but somehow it is probably true of God (analogously speaking), a being of infinite attributes. Certainly, though, He loves diversity amongst His creatures. One passage appears to show that such diversity will continue into the kingdom of God:

And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain - perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body (1 Cor. 15:37-38).

Doesn't such a thought make you want to jump for joy? Vive les differences! And to God goes the glory.


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