Wednesday, December 02, 2009

My Favorite Portmanteau

Way back when I learned the true meaning of portmanteau, having once thought it was that big thingy that carpetbaggers and scalawags carried around down South after the that little tiff we had wid the Yankees. But no, it is an amalgam word and "Oxbridge" seems to be the quintessential expression, though Chocoholic (not to be confused with Apostolic) runs a close second.

In any case, I was boning up on my Star Wars sextet when Qui-Gon Jinn (Obi Wan's mentor) starts rambling on about how many midichlorians young Darth Vader (excuse me, Anakin Skywalker) has in his blood cells. Something like 20,000 I think. Anyway, 20,000 is the most midichlorians anyone has ever heard of slating him to be "THE ONE." So, I thinks to myself, I've got to find out what in the galaxy are these midichlorians?

Well, first of all, to the point. The name is a portmanteau of mitochondria and chloroplast and refers to little boogers that live in the cells of human beings and commune with THE FORCE. George Lucas (may the Force be with him) indicated in an interview with Rolling Stone that the midichlorians were endosymbiotic. This refers to the process by which cells of multicellular organisms evolved by incorporating single cell organisms.

This theory was originally proposed by Konstantin Mereschkowski, an early 20th Century Russian biologist. It suggests that mitochondria were originally bacteria that found their way into larger cells and were given the job of producing energy (droids). Also, chlorplasts, the nitty gritty of all green things, were cyanobacteria that did the same thing in plant cells. Interestingly enough, the bacteria that went on to form mitochondria were originally Rickettsiaes, of Rocky Mountain Spotted fever fame. (They also cause a nasty disease called typhus, "The name comes from the Greek typhos (τῦφος) meaning smoky or hazy, describing the state of mind of those affected with typhus. A state of mind yours truly experiences all too often. " Also: "During Napoleon's retreat from Moscow in 1812, more French soldiers died of typhus than were killed by the Russians.").

Mitochondria are interesting in their own right. They carry only mother's DNA (little spermies only have nuclear DNA; big ova have mitochondria too), and they have a highly efficient respiratory chain (that doesn't sound like Darth). We all have a little Eve in us. But, we digress...

Not only do midichlorians allow you to commune with the Force, they also, in sufficient numbers, allow you do do interesting things like make babies in a "chaste" way. (One can also become immortal and immortalize others; how boring). But making babies, we're talking Virgin Birth. So who, exactly, was Darth Vader's father? Who manipulated the midichlorians in Shmi, Anakin's mother? For some reason Anakin never seems too concerned about this. One suspects that it might have been Qui-Gon Jinn but that can't be true because Anakin's mother doesn't recognize him. To suspect that it was a Darth Whoever would shatter my world beyond belief.

(of interest: The iconic sound of the character's (Darth Vader's) respirator breathing was created by sound designer Ben Burtt, who created the sound by recording himself breathing into a scuba regulator.)

One could go on and on.....


Julie Heyward said...

I think it's unfair of you to serve up a very interesting, well-written and entertaining post with no fist-waving and which is perfectly garnished with a touch of boogers.

It's disarming. I don't like being armless.

Dr. C said...

Thank you. I'll be back to the interstellar net shortly. Interesting being armless; describes Darth Vader's predicament to a "T". I recommend reconstructive surgery if your HMO pays for it (ha! ha!). (His didn't, so the Empire footed the bill.)