Tuesday, August 2, 2011

We aint nothin' but mammals

So, I was struck today by this thought, "I am a mammal." What brought on this realization? I was getting ready to pump milk, like I do every day at work, and it just crossed my mind how cool it is that we feed our babies milk. To my knowledge, mammals are the only set of species with mammary glands, whether rudimentary like the platypus - who just secrete milk from their mammary glands onto their furry bellies for their babies to lap up, or a pair, like great apes, or multiples of two for whole litters, like mice or dogs or pigs.

We all make milk to feed our babies. I am curious how the content of the milk differs from species to species.

Also, since I've been reading these science fiction books lately, I wonder:
- what would an alien species think of us secreting proteins and fluid from mammary glands to sustain our youngest individuals? (I suppose this includes the assumptions that an alien species would be thinking about anything at all.)
- how would aliens likely feed their young'ins?

Then, I wonder, how many of my assumptions about non-Earth lifeforms are based off of Star Trek, and other science fiction I've seen growing up. How can I start to really think outside the box when thinking of alien life. And then, there's the arguments about what constitutes life. Is self-replication required? What about parasitic life? What about single strands of RNA? What if non-Earth life is not based off of a phosphorous backbone with purine and pyrimidine bases (like RNA or DNA), but some other chemical structure entirely?? What if there were carbon-free, phosphorus-free lifeforms? Are there elements abundant in the universe that we haven't discovered yet?

So many questions! Seems like science is a good career path for me. :)

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