The Machinery of Spring

Some would suggest that looking too closely at the magic of Spring is to tempt the cosmos. Do we really want to know how all this works? Well, look at it this way—Yes. The wonder of All This is not in the gauzy metaphysics, but in the gee-whizness of its exacting design. And that goes for you and me, too; and the butcher, baker, the candlestick maker, and that diabolical paperboy who keeps throwing the morning news onto the roof and pretending it’s an accident, the little dung beetle. [Ahem]. We’re all in This together; something we continually forget, to our common peril.  We ARE the moving parts. Knowing that stars are fire doesn’t dim their glory, and knowing why flowers bloom and shout like tipsy ninnies in Springtime — oh, had you heard? They think they figured that one out, too. You’re gonna love this. It has all the charming mechanical foolishness of a Natural Order that spends eons trying to make up its mind about every little thing. 

Protein Blossom

We have held forth in these pages on the weird and complicated protein molecule; a so-called Macromolecule whose gigantism and multiple personalities boggle the scientific mind, and tie the lowly Writer’s Mind into absolute knots. Well, it should probably come as no surprise that a single protein molecule in plants has been found to be the joy-catalyst that triggers the loudmouthed, show-offy blooming of the flowers every spring. How does it work?

Some time ago, science discovered a protein in plants which they named CONSTANS. This protein manages the opening of flowers by taking chemical note of the growing length of a day as the seasons change. Daylight of longer duration triggers the CONSTANS protein in plants to activate the flowering process, and the next thing you know you are “...starry eyed and vaguely discontented/like a nightingale without a song to sing…”. Yes, nothing announces Spring’s dizzying, hormonal heart-massage like a field of wildflowers.

Three Billion Years of Waffling

More recent is the discovery of a second “Spring protein” in plants, which our sentimental scientist pals have christened the FKF1 protein. What does this protein do? To explain that, we’ll here introduce yet a third co-conspirator, this one a protein called CDF1.

CDF1 is a transcription factor protein, which means its principal function is to turn genes on and off and make sure our cellular gadgetry does the right micro-thing at the right micro-moment in order to keep our living selves humming. In plants, the CDF1 inhibits the blossom-triggering CONSTANS protein from rolling out its program. Now, when days get longer and Sinatra starts warbling out of the stereo about being “..dizzy as a spider spinning daydreams..” we NEED those flowers to open.

So what does the awkwardly-named FKF1 do? It taps CDF1 on the shoulder, and when CDF1 glances over to see what’s what, FKF1 grabs CDF1 by the lapels and flings him out of the picture, allowing CONSTANS to get on with the business of opening the flowers and stirring our senses.

Yes, you have it right. Mother Nature made a protein that tells the flower when to open, then thought better of it and made a second protein to stop the flower-opening first protein. Then Mom Nature changed her mind yet again and made a third protein to shut down the second, so the first could resume its original role of Blossom Boss.

This is indecision on an eons-long scale, and something we can all relate to. There’s a reason we adore nature—she is US writ large. Now get out there and dance. The flowers are strutting their stuff.


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