Are you a cell biologist, a biochemist or a geneticist?

The answer to this question depends on which part of the story you resonate with.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, an alien world discovered what they thought might be intellegent life on a small planet in a neighboring solar system. Immediately they trained their best telescopes on the planet and began their observations of the local inhabitants. They noticed that when the sun's light reaches a particular spot on the planet surface, many of the locals entered a large building and remained there more or less for eight hours. Large letters on the side of the building read AUTO PLANT. "What is this AUTO PLANT", they asked themselves. It started as an academic question, but soon it became a serious annoyance. Finally, they were consumed by an overwhelming curiosity. In a meeting of the highest government officials, they decided that they must dispatch a team of scientists to find out.

But who to send? Members from the Departments of Genetics, Cell Biology and Biochemistry all volunteered to go. After much consultation, it was decided that the honor would go to the geneticists, and they headed out.

In typical geneticist fashion, they ... (Click either picture to see them enlarged.)

...started the experiment this way ... ... and collected the data this way.

When the genecists got back, they had to admit that they hadn't learned as much from the mutational approach as they had hoped they would. Sure, there were some puzzling phentypes, but many mutations were lethal. They needed additional information if they were ever going to find out what the AUTO PLANT was all about.

Fortunately, the telescope watchers had located another AUTO PLANT with the same coming and going characteristics as the one destroyed by the geneticists. This time the cell biologists were sent down. The pictures here show their mission. As cell biologists of that day were wont to do, they ... (Again, an elargement is available by clicking on either picture.)

... started the experiment this way ... ... and collected the data this way.

This was good information! Between the genecists and cell biologists, they were beginning to form a picture of what the AUTO PLANT was. Now the biochemists weighed in. "Find us another AUTO PLANT", they said, "and we'll reconstitute it from its parts." So, off they went, and as per that generation of biochemists, they ...

...located the subject, isolated sub-AUTO PLANT samples, ... and performed an in vitro analysis.

Now that did it. They knew what the AUTO PLANT was all about. The feeling of satisfaction was wonderful. "But was it worth it?", they asked. "Billions spent for this information?" "What could have been done to make it more cost effective?" In response to this questioning they started a new training program, one in which young scientists could be trained in all the molecular biological techniques, one in which the distinctions bewteen cell biologists, biochemists and geneticists became blurred because one individual could cover all these areas. One mission instead of three, one scientist asking just the right questions because she had all the tools. "It's the wave of the furutre", they said. And it was.

Illustrations by Mark Havrilla Ainsworth