Man has revolutionized the world, but why didn’t the wheat plant do it first?

The article is written by Viktoria Holsvik

When I look in the mirror on the morning twig, my mirror image shows a face. It can change shape and expression. I can talk and move, even think. Therefore, I naturally think that as a human being I am very complex. And that I contain a lot more genetic information than the little slice of bread, which sits there, completely motionless and expressionless on the plate. Well, that’s a mistake.

Viktoria Holsvik is a master’s student in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Oslo. The article is written as part of the MNKOM dissemination course.

Who exactly is the boss?

The morning sun shines on the weathered wheat field. The wheat dances in the wind. There is a dance net of the couple of grains of wheat. Yes, because it is a proud dance that this plant is dancing today. Wheat actually contains a lot more genetic material than we humans, even more genes. We humans harbor genetic material six times smaller than the genetic material of the wheat plant, and it contains 20,000 modest genes against the proud 96,000 of the wheat plant.

Man’s disappointing collection of genes

Inside your cells lives the girlfriend you possess. Find out the recipe for yourself. Your genetic material! This recipe consists of many different ingredients, some more important than others. We call the main ingredients genes. These genes are used by your body to make different proteins, some of which you can see when you see your own reflection in the morning. They appear as skin, hair, nose and eyes. But shockingly enough, human genetic material contains only one percent genes, a surprisingly low number of key ingredients in other words. This means that 99% of your genetic material is not visible when you see yourself in the mirror in the morning. That’s why we might not be as amazing as we think. How can this be?

Parasitic fleas in your genetic material

Well, one of the reasons is that almost half of our genetic material contains something that can be compared to little parasitic fleas that during evolution jumped into our private recipe and, among other things, have been copied thousands of times. This has led to us having huge amounts of recipes that aren’t genes, just identical, less important ingredients that are repeated over and over again. Therefore, you might want to think a bit before pulling your slice of bread in the morning.

It was probably just the wind

Fortunately, the wheat plant has nothing to be proud of anyway. Because the genetic material of the wheat plant also contains these parasitic fleas, which has led to most of the personal wheat recipe being also filled with these less important repeated ingredients. So the dance of the wheat plant in the sun is probably just the wind. There is no pride in sight, just simple movements that follow the strength and direction of the wind.

Size isn’t everything

The human body, on the other hand, is home to many complex mechanisms that make the most of the few genes we have. Yes, in fact, our incredible body manages to manufacture even more proteins than the number of genes, by sprucing up the proteins a little to make them change their function. The same goes for the wheat plant, but it is still less complex than man himself. In fact, the size of the genetic material and the number of genes do not always correspond to the complexity inside or outside. So even though there’s a disappointing amount of genes we pack, that doesn’t mean the wheat plant is the boss.

Eat with a clear conscience

It is a true mirror image that you see in the mirror every morning, we humans are complex organisms, and fortunately more complex than the wheat plant. You can shrug your shoulders, admire the sunny field and eat a slice of bread with a clear conscience. After all, it’s just wheat.


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