Humans Naturally Select Nerf Guns

In 1998, Craig Venter founded Celera Genomics and took on the publically funded Human Genome Project in the fight to become the first to sequence the human genetic code.  The race officially ended in a tie in February 2001, when Celera’s results were published in Science, and the Human Genome Project’s results were published in Nature.

Despite the amicable conclusion, the road to the finish had been a hostile one. The 2001 PBS documentary “Cracking the Code of Life” visited the Celera employees in their workplace right when the race was starting to heat up.  The stakes were high and the environment at Celera was focused and intense. One employee compared the experience to finals week at his alma mater, Caltech.  He said that he and his co-workers blew off steam through the occasional epic nerf gun battle.

PBS did not deny their viewers the adrenaline pumping action of white-collar nerf gun warfare.  The documentary captured the likes of respectable scientists carrying nerf artillery and engaging in combat best described as ‘every man for himself’. The scene was aggression unleashed, as Celera employees bounded through hallways, ducked behind water coolers, and attacked over cubicles.

Perhaps the clip was included to remind viewers that scientists are people to. If that was the intended purpose for the tactic, it was effective. People understand the thrill of combat, a theme reflected in many popular pastimes. To name a few…toys (nerf guns and water guns), action movies (the name’s Bond, James Bond), video games (Call of Duty and Battlefield) and exercise classes (the Less Mills program, Body Combat).

Future Celera Employees?

Most people can understand the fun in shooting a nerf gun at another person. It cuts right to our competitive core! Of course, it is a far cry from the competition experienced by other organisms that have to fend off predators to stay alive in the wild. Still, at the heart of it all, there is some common ground – innate competitive drive.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that if there is one thing that DNA sequencing has taught us, it is that humans aren’t that different from the other living things on earth.  From the very beginning, the environment has been selecting for life forms that are able to, in a way, beat out the competition and adapt to harsh, changing experiences.  Although natural selection is responsible for the evolution of all the different species on earth, perhaps the mechanism has made us more alike than we think!

-M

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~ by marysciencewriting on January 14, 2012.

One Response to “Humans Naturally Select Nerf Guns”

  1. I really like this. It’s an interesting and unexpected bit of the documentary to decide to comment on, but you make great points and were really able to connect it to genetics.

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