Brian O’Dowd – Dice of Life

Brian O’Dowd was born in Dublin. He lives in Toronto. O’Dowd is a Professor at the University of Toronto. His novel ‘A Wicklow Girl’, was published in 2017. Available on Amazon etc. Publisher: Tellwell, Canada. In 2019 he won the prestigious Prix Galien 2019 Canadian science award, as reported in the Irish Times.

Dice of Life

Brian O’Dowd Ⓒ



Convocation Hall packed to nicotine stained rafters.  Old crony Profs gathered in front being well lit from lunch.   Vice-Dean Jack Campbell intro’d.

“Pleasure to introduce Professor Anthony Wolfe Professorial address, Tony in Dublin after stint away.  Assured no equations so biologists can follow, Dr. Wolfe bark away.”

Jack Shamble’s lame effort.

“Woof, woof, work in cell-valley, reverse engineering technology of life!”

Often feel it’s too damn hard, as ants query quantum physics.

“More difficult to make first cell of creation than T Rex.  Those giants all about engineering.”

Spied a Zoologist scratch a large noggin.

Cell machinery flies in face of comprehension, fruit fly more complex than Jumbo jets.”

From being trapped in amber, evidenced those insects not changed in 50 million years.  Good design!

“Has ‘Origin of life’ been solved?  Some popular opinions noted.”

1.   Darwin explained in ‘Origin of Species’.

2.  Lagoons, seaside pools concentrate prebiotic reactions, deep ocean hot vents, no sunlight, life exists on energy from seeping chemicals.

3.  Panspermia, find bugs outside space station.  Rocks from Mars with microbes landing in Antarctica.

4.   Natural process under right conditions ‘spontaneous’, on Goldilocks planet bugs pop up.

5.   Given time things happen!  Philosophers shrug.

“Life is too smart for chance, easier propose a Creator so first place to Genesis!

Disapproval growls echoed, no patience for intelligent design.  That cop out.

“Bray for ice cream cones, candy floss, but pools by Bray head are not inventing.”

Although life changes occur summer nights, with music and beer!

“In 1859 Darwin provided no clue for life’s origin, pontificated of animal life on small islands.”

Also Charlie D knew we did not descend from apes, but a common ancestor.   In the rain forest we’ve broad umbrellas and smart phones, silverbacks use broad leafs.

“So no one has a clue!” Prof Kelly advancing two cents. “Someplace cells were conceived must be there was a once!”

Okay that’s a point.

“By ‘grandeur of God’ our planet formed 4 billion years ago, Pangaea seas, earth lay barren expectant as virgin’s wedding night, Gaia’s sand box declared ‘come play’.  Bugs appeared double quick, so ‘space life’ not denied, just push life’s origin on down the road.”

Bodies shuffling check watches.  Too soon!  I’ve good bits coming.

“One consideration if our creator wanted to leave no doubts of his existence he’d have designs defy emergence by evolution.  In my world DNA and platypus fit that bill!”

If turns out life is serendipity and I’m a monkey’s uncle, I’m turning in my doctorate.

“Point of order my friend.”  Physics philosopher ‘Bully’ Malone. “Origin of life business largely demonstrated in 1952.  Do you not know?  Making amino acids in a test-tube!”

Idiot garnered approval from morons.

“Such yammering, chemicals in a flask with wires, given nature’s complexity proves nowt.   Physics folk excel at maths, do youse know biology?  Any?”

Hewn together by DNA, yet most don’t know squat from diddly.  Neurons fully saturated by concerns for health of Schrödinger’s pet.  Who puts a living cat in a closed box?

“Today need sophisticated electronic machines ferret out fundamental stuff.  Revealing Nature’s secrets, tougher than dragging struggling armadillo from a deep lair.  While Watson, Crick in 1953 constructed first model of DNA with wire, clips, cardboard and brilliance using Franklin’s X-ray photos.  In the Eagle pub Francis Crick declared, ‘James Watson and I found the secret of life.”

Plough man’s lunch with a pint. Cambridge University good times.  Nice job!  Profound moment.  Watson was 25 years old!  I’ve read his bio, young lad hoping for girl friend and Nobel prize!  He deserved both.

“Aliens likely got a heads up reading that ‘Double Helix’ paper.”

‘Dr Wolfe are you suggesting aliens needed Crick and Watson’s results to reveal a double helix?  Earthlings head of the game in this galaxy?  Absurd nonsense.  All life is DNA based in the Universe?  Twice absurd, Professor.’

Dr. Mick Aisling, large astronomer, monocle inserted.  Audience making disturbing guffaws.

“Sure ET copies, Percy French, Mozart, Charlie Chaplin most fascinating.  Are you right there Michael?  They’ve mountains by the sea, ET rebellious teens love ‘Easy Rider’.”

‘Take us to the San Fran bay bridge!’

Also universally hilarious ‘Three Stooges’!

A rock killed dinosaurs, life bearing comets crashed our oceans.  We responded sending music to rock the Cosmos!”

Fair exchange.  

“However Bio-ET here will result in contamination.  Never have their biology among us, invade our biosphere with strange bugs.  Least of worries astronauts back from Mars.”

Unleash my rant, facing frazzle dazzle puzzled faces.

“Life thrived in ice shell moons rotating Jupiter, other giant planets, nurtured out there what a Solar System does.  Bugs blown from rocks speed down to this earth.”

Old Halley greets us every 76 years.  Most recent in 1986, next time have a tracker on Halley see where it travels.  Although I’ll not be about.

70,000 years ago outer planets had a roasting with flares from Scholz’s star passing.  Gilbert Levin’s 1976 experiment on Viking 1 and 2 detected microscopic life on Mars. President Clinton celebrated Mars rock ALH84001 contains fossils of life.  Seasonal Mars methane generated by bugs.  Satellites detected underground Mars lakesthe Nakhla meteorite …. 

“Poppy Cock!”  Monocle dangling.

Hey no kids, well yet.

“Stop this, you’ve no proof.  On earth we have thermophiles created in Yellowstone geysers and sea vents.  Propagating life needs no assistance from moons, you sir are looney.  Perhaps too much syrups in the poutine!”

Okay nincompoop I lived in Ontario.

Encedalus moon vent plumes contain organics.  Europa potential organisms on icy surface, buried oceans twice ours where fish may exist.  Soon we’ll send submarines loaded with bait!  How life starts in that dark a mystery, like your dark matter!  Okay?   Even Steven.”

Time to drop hammer nails like Luther.  Lose the muzzle.

“Who created the electron, photon, ‘God particle’, quarky muon shebangs from the Hadron Collider!  Answer before a Swiss black hole devours us.  Yet we should know where DNA came from?  Big Bang physics and biology require a miracle each.  Agree?”

‘God of the Gaps’ as they say.

“In case I’d not make myself clear.  The cell in our parlance is a machine, contains 19,969 different proteins, each with a precise function as they navigate.  Mastermind the DNA ‘computer’ creates proteins, coordinates which required for kidney, Vas deferens or toe nails.  Not typical yoke expected to emerge with good fortune!  Life a wonderment without comprehension.  Not all tofu.”

Awesome to be in it.

Confronted by a machine, tiny cell with 6 feet of DNA.  Origami!   DNA contains 3.2 billion ‘letter code’ instructions.  If life emerged in different locations could not be the same, likely as Japan and English having identical alphabets!”

Flies have 16,000 proteins.  Apollo heroes were on the moon, while mosquito’s spread malaria.   Just saying.

“We have ~100 trillion cells, gifted from long line of folks, then on back to first cell.”

Solemn moment.

“Life treasure inherited, embellished and customized by our precious generations.  Cells see us as transients, friend or foe stepping stones?  Megalodon once reigned supreme, now we are earth’s master.”

Best move into the Universe, escape a Planets wrath.  Getting too big for britches.

“Perhaps we are alone with customized solar system DNA alphabet, why aliens don’t visit.  Mating only gobble goo.  As with QE2, bio-ET never to sink a pint, not on either bucket list.”

Pint of plain?  Fermi paradox?  

“If ET had our biology they’d be here, getting langered, watching sports!  One of the lads!  Now only check us from a far.”

How great to watch their Olympics!  Now humans maxed out with most World records.

“Whooping miracles needed, biologists have life stuff, ‘Big Bang theory’ still chalk dust on a black board.”

Physics of equational yaps, if you say so.

‘Need to throw deep’ Ronnie the Gipper had encouraged, then USA cancelled a planned ginormous collider.

Agitations at big Wig table, hear fingers drumming.

“Science fiction rant, need a warning.  This is a University, should I remind you, Professor?   Now I’ve Research grants to attend.   Bit whimsical learned friend.   Science is no laughing matter.”

Big beard, still a slide rule and fountain pen protruding.  Entangled, the Physics department departed.

Audience anticipating a riot.  So vamoose.

I took a water swig, gasp as Venus bugs in toxic air.

“So where now?”   Voice pleads from bleachers.

“I’m circling the bowl.”  Sputnik lost in space.  Beep, beep.

Appreciated diminished applause from cohorts. Time to wrap it up, but not this Wolfe to fold, after winters in Canada don’t melt easy.

“Wish to acknowledge bacteria ancestors, now we exterminate with penicillin.  Pull up the brass ladder!  Also tank-full to dinosaurs, arrived in my SUV.”

Colleague Mickey thumbs up, cheddar cat gleaming, inheriting full lab his grubby plans for my couch.

 “If ET comes I’ve questions.  How pretty was Eve?  How good was wine at Cana wedding in Galilee?  Any films of Saint Patrick with the shamrock?”

I’m curious.




“Tony get up!   You are in the tabloids.”

Jill wailing on the stairs.

“You said the moon has fish?  What on earth?”

No tranquility only hung-over.

“It’s Europa!   Not Armstrong’s!”  I hollered.

Daily cartoon depicted me as Frankenstein.  Lecture got reviewed!  Yahoo!

“Tony you know astronomy?”

Crunching my Lucky Star cereal.

“Quebec wife has a Star Trek uniform.”

For that Halloween party.

“There you got me.”

I went as her cling on.

“Current mating habits confined to Earthlings.”

Given gobbly gook restrictions, and their absence.

“Dear mémère warned we’d have rien to talk about.”

“Your grandma one hot old tart.”

Why settle for pomme de Terre?

Cook for a lout for 50 years!


“Parading that Ph.D., suspected I wanted smart babies.  No matter how poor, I’ll not be clubbing seals again.  Forget that.”

“Mickey works on snails that immaculate conceive.  Yap with him, his Hydra Vulgaris worms regenerate heads.”

Best super power! 

On the door-step being fluent in her tongue, revealed origins.  I descended the hill with my wobbly crown.




University morning, left gasping for liquid lunch.  Encountered colleagues on high stools, traversed gauntlet of fist and back thumps.

“Avoid Physics each action unequal.”

“Raised the roof, old hall took a beating!  Impasto!”

“Whitewash for hogwash.  Good colleagues pints on me!”

Gave bar man go ahead.


Mickey in the snug, porter pints sat on board.

“You tipped them, desperately need new friends.”

“Get that down ye.  Classy Armadillo acknowledgment.”

“Got a right hollering from the Dean.”

That fence post turtle.

“Tony you’re not house trained.’  Mickey claimed.  “Confuse the CV, I live in Terenure, everyone thinks Tenure.”  Experienced advice I needed.

Got two of us going, alternating ‘anticipated’ Dean’s rant.

‘Dr Wolf a dog’s breakfast, heard you set cat among the pigeons.’

‘You can’t be talking about space aliens designing us.’

‘Never limits to understanding, consider granting agencies.  Biology is not the religion department.  Mixing religion with Darwin, slippery slope my friend!  Trifling with dogmas?’

‘Trifle needs decent dose of cheap port.’  Mother would say.

‘Red carpets in this country hauled on each one.’

‘Maybe philosophers, they listen to any old gab!’

‘Anyway overall good job with the talk.’

‘Keep it up.’

Bar man Nick stuck a neck in, given hooting commotions.

“Heaven sake lads not Majorca, contemplate as decent citizens.”

“Nick his lovey is in the family way!”

“Tony that does my heart world of good!”


Trapped by nature as Olympic flame

life demands to pass on, before goes out.

Nothing left to burn.




From the hill watched Jill meditate on Dalkey island.  Parish priest Father William sat in my ergonomic chair.  Grey hair from Sunderland, renewed acquaintance for upcoming Baptism.

“Great excitement from your talk, phone-in shows this morning.  Origin of life!  Genesis itself!  I need topics for pulpit sermons not be repeating.”

Miniscule horizons still to explore.

“Father Bill are you ready?”

“I’ve ‘O’ levels.”

Computer fired by my research, using an electron microscope.  Tax payer generosity.  Irish coffee for two, hold cream given the hour.

“Sample from Burren mine hundred foot down, I ignored trespass warnings!”

Think it’s easy?

“High tech, started with Leeuwenhoek in 1700 saw the animalcules.  Refused to divulge how he made his lens.”

“So you knew him Father?”

“Just like your mother!  God rest her soul.”

As he shook his head, the screen lit up.

“Bacteria with a propeller tail, a flagella.”

“Strewth!   Once a jello blob!”

“Windocupus, named from a wild day!  Where the tail joins the cell, what is that?”

“Things moving, yokes twirling.  Motor!”

“Made with at least 30 proteins.”

“Outboard motor?  Extraordinary.”

“Bug engineers?  Wheel spins up to 100 times per second, fast as a race car engine.”

“Awe struck, Tony!”

Whether bacteria or whale.

“Top-notch scientists discovered all this, I’m with following the wake, waving the Burren flagella!”

“How do they do that, fit bits together and the power?  Bugs invented the wheel?”

“Just like that.”

Best guess, so far.

Only wheel in biology.

Tiny but awesome.

“Down the Burren with thatched cottages this was happening?  How did bugs figure this in tiny cells? Look at us big heads?

“Needed to swim fast so they convened a meeting.”

Jokesters we are!

“Flagella motor tail is cause célèbre!  Engineers gasp at such efficiency.”

“Windocupus stir sinners, fill the pews.  Hand of God, done and dusted.  Nowt on earth designed this motor!”

Good man tapping notebook with a pencil, have moments.  Get story straight for parishioners.

“Tony provide guidance!”

“Watching cell technology, glimpse of what’s possible.  What we cannot do.”  




We’re smart, can take a long stick through a small door, know that’s us in a mirror.  Some how got gestated in nine months.  Three score and ten if fortunate, not all wine and roses.


Chosen to be,

get to glimpse.

Thread lightly,

wander about.

Don’t mess up,

Almighty’s miracle.

Only a tourist,

borrowed time.

Understand all,

is futile.











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