A little over 10 years ago, on Dec 1, 2006 to be precise, the first Talmudic Question made its appearance in these pages. The intent was to tease the mind, whet the appetite, stimulate curiosity, toy with the absurd. I know a good term for this in Italian, ‘stuzzicare la mente.’ The question counts for much more than the answer. Obviously, Google is of no help here.
Here is a dozen of some of my personal favorites of the 146 we have used so far. If you would like to see the comments they elicited, click on each of their numbers. You can, of course, add comments now.
#1 Where on Earth would one expect to find a single species of microbes (a pure culture) for sustained periods of time? Symbioses (mutualistic or parasitic) do not count, neither do lab Petri dishes.
#5. In an essay in Nature, Margaret McFall-Ngai posits that with regards to intracellular bacteria, “Although widespread among invertebrates, such associations seem to be absent from vertebrates.” Can you think of an endosymbiont in a vertebrate? (mitochondria don’t count)
#15. Why are only prokaryotes known to carry out biological nitrogen fixation?
#16. Invertebrates are said to have only innate immunity. Why do you suppose they have not evolved acquired immunity, as vertebrates have done?
#20. If viruses did not exist, could anyone have conjured them up?
#23. By David Lipson. Methanogenesis is characteristic of Archaea (and, according to some, plants as well). Why don't bacteria make methane?
#30. Many bacteria, e.g., E. coli and B. subtilis, regulate their gene expression via a large number of distinct devices that operate on almost all conceivable biochemical levels. Why so many?
#66. What if someone found an organism whose genes assignation is 1/3 bacterial, 1/3 archaeal, and 1/3 unknown?
# 67. Richard Feynman, the famous physicist, said: “It is very easy to answer many of these fundamental biological questions; you just look at the thing!” To take him up on it, imagine a microscope that lets you observe single molecules in a living cell at one Angström resolution. What's the first thing you would do with it?
#75. What would our world be like without the Archaea?
#104. Can you conceive of an entity that can replicate as a cell under some circumstances or as a virus under others?
#111. Can you conceive a viable (microbial) cell that has no ribosomes?