The Salvation of Doug
by William T. Sullivan
On a hill overlooking an automobile factory, lived Doug, a retired
biochemist, and a retired geneticist (nobody knew his name). Every
morning, over a cup of coffee, and every afternoon, over a beer, they
would discuss and argue over many issues and philosophical points. During
their morning conversations, they would watch the employees entering the
factory below to begin their work day. Some would be dressed in work
clothes carrying a lunch pail, others, dressed in suits, would be
carrying briefcases. Every afternoon, as they waited for the head on
their beers to settle, they would see fully built automobiles being
driven out of the other side of the factory.
Having spent a life in pursuit of higher learning, both were wholly
unfamiliar with how cars worked. They decided that they would like to
learn about the functioning of cars and having different scientific
backgrounds they each took a very different approach. Doug immediately
obtained 100 cars (he is a rich man, typical of most biochemists) and
ground them up. He found that cars, consist of the following: 10% glass,
25% plastic, 60% steel, and 5% other materials that he could not easily
identify. He felt satisfied that he had learned of the types and
proportions of material that made up each car.
His next task was to mix these fractions to see if he could reproduce
some aspect of the automobile's function. As you can imagine, this proved
daunting. Doug put in long hard hours between his morning coffee and
The geneticist, not being inclined toward hard work (as is true for most
geneticists) pursued a less strenuous (and less expensive) approach. One
day, before his morning coffee, he hiked down the hill, selected a worker
at random, and tied his hands. After coffee, while the biochemist zipped
up his blue jump suit, adjusted his welders goggles, and lit his blow
torch to begin another day of grinding, the geneticist pueered around the
house, made himself another pot of coffee, and browsed through the latest
issue of Genetics.
That afternoon, while the automobiles were rolling off the assembly
Doug, wet with the sweat of his day's exertions, took a sip of beer and
as soon as he caught his breath began discussing his progress.
"I have been focusing my efforts on a component I consistently find in
plastic fraction. It looks like this (he draws the shape of a steering
wheel on the edge of a napkin). Presently I have been mixing it with the
glass fraction to see if it has any activity.. I am hoping that with the
right mixture I may get motion, although I have not had any success so
far. I believe with a bigger blow torch, perhaps even a flame thrower, I
will get better results."
The geneticist was only half listening because his attention was
the cars rolling off the assembly line. He noticed that they were missing
the front and rear windows, but not the side windows. As soon as the
biochemist finished speaking (geneticists are very polite
conversationalists), the geneticist proclaimed, "I have learned two facts
today. The worker whose hands I tied this morning is responsible for
installing car windows and the installation of the side windows is a
separate process from the installation of the front and back windows."
The following day the geneticist tied the hands of another worker. That
afternoon he noticed that the cars were being produced without the
plastic devices the biochemist was working on (steering wheels). In
addition, he noticed that as the cars were being driven off to the
parking lot, none of them make the first turn in the road and they begin
piling up on the lawn.
That evening, to Doug's dismay, the geneticist concluded that steering
wheels were responsible for turning the car and, in addition, that he had
identified the worker responsible for installing the steering wheels.
Emboldened by his successes, the next morning the geneticist tied of the
hands of an individual dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase in one
hand and a laser pointer in the other (he was a vice president). That
evening the geneticist, and Doug (although he would not openly admit it),
anxiously awaited to see the effect on the cars. They speculated that the
effect might be so great as to prevent the production of the cars
entirely. To their surprise, however, that afternoon the cars rolled off
the assembly line with no discemible effect.
The two scientists conversed late into the evening about the
of this result. The geneticist, always having had a dislike for men in
suits, concluded that the vice president sat around drinking coffee all
day (much like geneticists) and had no role in the production of the
automobiles. Doug, however, held the view that there was more than one
vice president so that if one was unable to perform, others could take
over his duties.
The next morning Doug watched as the geneticist, in an attempt to
this issue, headed off towards the factory carrying a large rope to tie
the hands of all the men in suits. Doug, after a slight hesitation,
abandoned his goggles and blow torch, and stumbled down the hill to join him.
Reproduced from the Genetics Society of America Newsletter, April 30
1993. The author, William Sullivan, is a Professor in the Department of
Biology, Sinsheimer Labs, University of California at Santa Cruz, Santa
Cruz, CA 95064. He uses this story to explain the rationale behind
mutational analysis in his introductory genetics classes, and suggests
that it may be useful for teaching students the basic differences between
genetics and biochemistry.