The Case of the Time Traveling Amoeba


Click for video of image. Amoeba in motion, Dr. Ralf Wagner

I am an amoeba.

You might think this makes me simple, but the truth is that I am a math whiz – spending my days dividing and multiplying. And no chalkboard or calculator for me – I just do it!

I am never lonely – my family is all around me; indeed, I create new family as often as I like. Life is good. I’m smart and I’m gregarious, and food and water are in plentiful supply.

As for my looks, I may look like a blob but by extending a pseudopod, I become a shape-shifter par excellence.

One sunny day, relaxing after a tasty meal of algae and seaweed, I noticed a new creature, a sister amoeba, but something about it seemed different. This amoeba seemed ecstatic to find me: Oh, distinguished ancestor, it telegraphed to me, such joy to find you! I am your humble servant and wish to honour you, oh, ancestor of all ancestors.

For the life of me, I couldn’t make heads or tails of what this creature was trying to convey: ancestor, what’s that?

I inquired first off, what is your name? Eugenia, replied this strange yet familiar cell. I wish to relate to you a miraculous story but first I must take my rest, for I have come a long way on my quest to find you.

A long way from where, I inquired, for as useful as our pseudopods are for locomotion, they can’t get us very far – nor why would we want to? We are very well adapted to HERE.

Ah, said Eugenia, that’s the point: I’m not from here – I’m from the future – I have travelled through billions of years to find you.

I may be a math whiz but billion was beyond even my sophisticated understanding.

Sensing my skepticism, Eugenia began to talk of the passage of time. To me, that just means from my last meal to my next, from giving rise to two daughter cells to four, and so on.

Eugenia tried to explain that these small fractions of time I was familiar with – if you took them and added them up almost endlessly, you’d arrive at the specific future she came from.

My belief system was all in a spin. But I kept listening.

Eugenia spun tales of creatures like me joining up together to create a multi-celled being – no longer independent but, in cooperation with one another, had more tricks up its proverbial sleeve.

I was most happy to hear that we one-celled wonders still managed to exist, and to continuously proliferate.

Multi-celled animals, as she called them, developed all kinds of specialties, eventually living out of the water and, shockingly, after millions of years, an animal evolved which thought itself superior to all others and had the capability to kill off all living things. Even me!

But they also developed things of amazement, including this so-called “time travel”.

So Eugenia had volunteered for a project to find earliest forms of life and specifically sought me out.

We are related, you know, she delighted in telling me – we all, creatures large and small, owe our origins to you. To me? I was taken aback, astonished.

Meanwhile, somehow the project had developed a fatal flaw and Eugenia could not return to the “future”.

So she and her offspring now enjoy the easy life with me and mine.
I understand that someday some of our offspring’s offspring’s offspring will join forces to become multicellular, but I’ve got billions of years to worry about that.

Today is for relaxing. Me, ancestor par excellence! Aha!

After a while, I wake with a start, feeling an unusual sensation and quickly evacuate what I’d ingested hours before, it looks like a strange purple seaweed. Now I remember word going around last week to avoid the purple weed: it gives rise to strange dreams…..

Marilyn Myerson, PhD Philosophy, has learned to take nothing for granted and to have fun. She retired from USF after 38 years of teaching, learning and kicking up her heels in Women’s and Gender Studies. Marilyn was the first outside hire in W(G)S, starting in 1973, when the department was just one year old. She was an administrator at various departmental and dean’s levels, including a stint as W(G)S Chair before her retirement as Emeritus faculty in 2010. She shepherded the Human Sexual Behavior class through its many incarnations, developed the original women’s health classes, and taught feminist research methodology. She is currently in three writing groups, and happily involved with OLLI-USF, taking art and writing classes. She created and teaches  OLLI Imaginative Writing classes and facilitates writing groups.

4 Replies to “The Case of the Time Traveling Amoeba”

  1. Loved this entertaining little story… a gracious reminder that we’re all of one!
    Thanks for giving me a great start of my day.

  2. Hi Marilyn … I thoroughly enjoy your stories . I just moved back to Tampa and joined OLLI and there you were with your delightful, thought provoking, creative stories. Thank you, Sue Perez

  3. What a delightful way to envision our creation story. So inventive. Thank you for making me smile and think at the same time

  4. Thanks Marilyn for another reminder that life today is made very interesting and enjoyable by you and so many others while we are here.
    I believe – that none are anything like the Incredible Adventures ahead …

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