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Seeds of Evolution

NPR (National Public Radio) is the American equivalent of the BBC. It has the same prejudices and predilections. The BBC hires exclusively from Guardian readers; NPR exclusively from readers of the New York Times. Their accents are different - NPR's are frequently easier to understand.

Unlike the BBC, NPR will often find British people it admires. This morning, NPR was talking about Darwin, now their most revered Brit since Tony Blair lost favour over the Iraq war. NPR revealed that Darwin was puzzled over the singularity of kangaroos in Australia and New Guinea. Clearly, kangaroos had not made any long sea voyages, but had somehow managed to develop in Australasia.

However, Darwin noted that the more humdrum cabbage, which had even less locomotive powers, was found all over the world. Darwin, his son, and his butler made some curious surmises, and the upshot was a lengthy experiment floating seeds of various species in various household containers filled with salt water. They discovered that many seeds survive in salt water for quite a few days. If a seed lasts 60 days in water, and is in a current travelling 20 miles per day, it can wind up over a thousand miles away. If it finds hospitable terrain, it will germinate, and thrive.

Then Darwin's son raised the question of whether birds might transport seeds. This seems obvious now, but was not so then. Darwin, always keen to test a hypothesis, began floating dead birds with seeds in their stomachs in saltwater. . .Unfortunately it was at this moment that I had to leave the car to attend to patients.

Alfred Russel Wallace, who was exploring South America and Indonesia, enjoyed adventures as exotic as Darwin's, and arrived at the theory of evolution at the same time (1858). You might want to take a look at the INGENIOUS TIMELINE >