NPR

Life Is The Network, Not The Self

The fundamental unit of biology is not the self, but the network — and this view has practical consequences, says David George Haskell, author of The Song of Trees.
Source: iStockphoto

I reach up into a sugar maple tree's low branches and pluck a leaf. My fingers hold a seemingly unremarkable leaf, grown on a tree next to a suburban driveway. This leaf is not what it seems.

I dip the leaf in alcohol, then in dilute bleach, long enough to kill fungi and bacteria on the surface. Then, with a sterile knife, I sliver the leaf and lay the cut segments onto Petri dishes filled with sugar-infused agar. I'm using this simplest of microbiological techniques to query what might be living inside the leaf. Maple cells will not grow in the Petri dishes, but fungi will. I'm luring them out of hiding and, by feeding them, bringing

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