Acrylic on canvas 914mm x 610mm
2007 marks 300 years since the birth of Carl Linnaeus, “the father of taxonomy.” He was the first to apply a rigorous hierarchical naming system to all living things. By closely observing the structure and behaviour of plants and animals, taxonomy allows us to place each living thing in relation to each other. This method of classification is universal today, though some of the assumptions have been challenged by genetic molecular systematics.
Gregor Mendel is the “father of modern genetics“. His work on heredity in pea plants was of minor interest in his lifetime, but his ‘laws’ describing the communication of traits between generations are the basis of our current thinking on heritability.
The Duck-billed Platypus is a Monotreme with both mammalian and apparently bird-like attributes. It has fur and produces milk, but lays eggs and has no nipples – it so baffled European Naturalists that when they first encountered a preserved specimen they believed it to be a hoax.
Indeed, at aside from its oddness in taxonomical terms, investigations into the genome of the Platypus have shown that it has ten sex chromosomes, compared to two for mammals and birds (the male Platypus is always XYXYXYXYXY) and quite how sex is determined in the Platypus is still unknown.
This creature lives in a hinterland which defies fully satisfying classification in normal mammalian taxonomy, or simple fit in a ‘genetic tree of life’. The quote on the painting is from Linnaeus “Nature does not proceed by leaps and bounds” – a portent of both Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection and Genetic Heritability.