Today's Reading


March 6th
11:15 P.M.

It was a cold, raw, windy, and heavily overcast March night on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Although the spring equinox was soon to arrive, winter had not given up. As evidence, a few wayward snowflakes swirled down out of the low cloud cover, which was churning like a witch's brew. With the temperature hovering in the mid-thirties, these microscopically intricate and strikingly beautiful crystalline structures were immediately metamorphosed into mere droplets of water the instant they touched any terrestrial surface. In sharp contrast to this wanton destruction of nature's handiwork, the situation was the opposite inside a cozily decorated one-bedroom fourth-floor apartment on 23rd Street. Within the literal and figurative indoor warmth, a cascade of cellular events had begun that was ultimately the absolute antithesis of the dissolution of the snowflakes. Here there was to be a progression of vastly increasing order and complexity initiated by the forcible ejection of more than 100 million eager sperm into a vaginal vault.

The individuals involved in this amorous event were blissfully unaware of the miraculous drama they had initiated and of its ultimate dire consequences for both of them. Thoroughly intoxicated by the passion of the moment and forsaking contraception, they had given no thought to the possibility there would be an almost simultaneous release of a receptive ovum from the female's right ovary. Nor did they consider how determined sperm are in fulfilling their singular desire to fuse with a receptive female equivalent.

Two and a half hours later, when the woman was contentedly fast asleep and the man likewise in his own abode, the fastest-swimming sperm, following a perilous and Herculean marathon from the depths of the vagina to the internal end of the right fallopian tube, collided head-on with the passively descending ovum. Powered by an irresistible reflex, this winning sperm rapidly burrowed between the cloud of cumulus cells surrounding the ovum to hit up against the ovum's tough covering. A moment later he injected his pronucleus into the ovum to allow his twenty-three chromosomes to pair with the ovum's twenty-three, forming the normal human cell complement of forty-six. The ovum had now become a zygote.

Thus, on this nasty New York night, one of the most astounding miracles of the known universe had been initiated: human genesis. Although such episodes of fertilization currently occur in the staggering neighborhood of 350,000 times a day on a worldwide basis, which clouds people's appreciation by its repetition, it begins a process of truly wondrous, dumbfounding complexity. As a single cell that can barely be seen by the naked eye, the human zygote contains all the data and instructions in its microscopic DNA library necessary to form and operate a human body. That means without any additional informational input, the single-celled zygote is capable of orchestrating the origin of some 37 trillion cells of two hundred different varieties as well as several billion extraordinarily specific, large-molecule proteins that must be formed according to exacting standards at just the right time, in just the right amount, and at just the right location. The human brain alone, with its 100 billion cells and more than 100 trillion synaptic connections, might be the most complex structure in the universe.

By March eleventh, five days after the lovemaking that initiated this particular ongoing miracle of human genesis, the rapidly developing conceptus reached the uterus to begin its implantation in the uterine wall. Soon it would make its presence known, proclaiming that a pregnancy had begun. From then on, all that was needed for the birth of a human infant in approximately nine months was maintenance of basic nutrients, the removal of waste, and physical protection. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case . . .

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