Science Anthropomorphized: Days of Our Leaves

(Source: Catherine Owsik)

By Tyler Vance

It’s fall again. The time of year where shorts fade to pants, and the greens of summer transform into a marvellous bouquet of yellows, oranges and reds. Many of the inner workings of this fabulously aesthetic process are still a mystery, but a few things are known for certain: it is understood that the actual colour change is the result of an increased degradation of chlorophyll (the green pigment in leaves) relative to another group of pigments, called the carotenoids (orange and yellow pigments). Interestingly enough, these carotenoids are present all year long in the leaf, but only get to shine when chlorophyll concentrations are reduced. Alternatively, some leaves actually begin to produce an additional pigment called anthocyanin (a dark red to purple pigment) during autumn, adding to the array of colours seen. We also know that the process is tied in to the environmental changes of reduced daylight and temperature, and the stresses these ambient conditions can place on leaves.

I can imagine that for a temperature sensitive structure whose main reason for being (photosynthesis) is reliant on lots of sun, autumn and winter may not provide the most welcoming environment. So the next time you see a beautiful autumn backdrop, pause to think about the poor leaves and their hardships during this very stressful time of year. I know I will.




On Screen: We open on the familiar set of the thylakoid membrane. In the centre of the room, Chlorophyllpaces back and forth in obvious agitation. Clutched in between the two oxygens of one of its ester bonds is a PIECE OF PAPER, shaded pink.

CHLOROPHYLL (muttering)

How could they do this to me? Don’t they know what I’ve given this company? I put my life into this thing, my whole life! I mean, how many double bonds have I shifted around for them? How many chances to go see an Endoctyosis with the guys have I passed up? I could have gone, but then  who would make sure the damnable Photosystems got their precious high energy electrons? No one, that’s who.

The membrane shifts open to reveal Carotenoid, who walks onto the set trying to hide a gleeful resonance state. The music begins to play the INTRIGUE THEME.


Have you seen this nonsense, Carrie?

Chlorophyll holds out the paper and shakes it in front of Carotenoid’s face. Carotenoid does not move to take it from him.


I have indeed. Quite unfortunate, really. “An increased degradation of the Chlorophyll in the cell.” I imagine you are quite upset about all this.


You’re damn right I am! I mean, what kind of organization does this to a compound? Especially a vital, hard-working compound like myself. I mean, I’m a Primary metabolite for crying out loud.


Yes, you are quite important aren’t you? Hard to imagine what we’ll do without you.


Okay, what’s your deal? What’s with all this excited electron activity?


I don’t know what you’re talking about. Why would I ever be happy that you’re going away? What could I possibly gain by your degradation?

The walls on set start to slowly change colour from their usual bright green to a rich yellow to an orange hue. [Note: consult with Hugh in lighting for proper colour variant.] Chlorophyll looks around, his Magnesium ion visibly vibrating in agitation. Music switches to HIGH-PITCHED VIOLIN TRILL THEME.

CAROTENOID (mockingly)

Oh. Don’t you like it? I think it’s beautiful.


What in the name of the EM Spectrum is going on here?


I know, it’s quite the change. We haven’t seen these royal hues around much, which is odd because they’ve been there this whole time. As long as the leaf has been, actually. And yet, in spite of their beauty they were clouded, veiled, shoved into the back corner to be outdone by some gaudy emerald rays, spewing forth from a selfish, inconsiderate, conjugated thug.


It was you! You were behind this! Oh, jealousy has turned you a very sick
colour indeed!


Interesting you should say so, considering the phrase is “green with envy.”

Chlorophyll moves forward as if to strike Carotenoid with some form of nucleophilic attack. 


Oh, calm down. I had nothing to do with the decision to degrade you. I just

happen to benefit from the results. I mean, why should I have to live in your metaphorical shadow? My colours are just as beautiful, my contribution just as great. Do you know that my brother lives in some subterranean vegetable and gets to spend all of his time just reflecting orange light? Guess what they call the vegetable . . . guess. A carrot! It’s like they named it after him. He runs the place. Why can’t that be me? You, that’s why.


If it wasn’t you, then who was it? Was it Ethylene? It was Ethylene, wasn’t it? That damned noxious hormone. She’s had it in for me ever since—


Okay, first of all her name is Ethene. Has been since IUPAC came around, like a century ago. And second of all, stop blaming this molecule or that and look around you. The times are changing. There is less and less light every day, and the temperature is dropping steadily. With all that stress and so little gain, how much longer did you think you could continue riding the Photosynthesis Privilege Express? Don’t tell me you haven’t seen the rising number of free radicals around.


But the glucose. We need that to . . .


We needed that. As I said, the times are changing and we have to change with them. We will still have the mitochondria, after all.

We zoom in to catch every twitch of emotional activity throughout Chlorophyll’s electron field. The music switches to SAD PIANO THEME, as Chlorophyll slowly walks towards the outer membrane. He looks back over his bulky side chain to Carotenoid.


I hope you enjoy your new position. We’ll see how long it will last.


Oh, fear not. I have a feeling my reign will be a long and joyous one.

Chlorophyll exits. The camera remains on that point in the membrane and zooms in subtly. The SAD PIANO THEME slowly fades into silence. Suddenly, the membrane reopens and a new character walks in. As he enters, the walls quickly change from the yellow-orange to a deep red.


What? What is this? Who are you?


Why hello there, my good stranger. Just came in on the Metaboli Trolli, as it were. The name is Anthocyanin. A fine establishment you’ve got here. I hope you don’t mind red!

Carotenoid stares at the newcomer as each carbon in its chain holds perfectly still.


So close . . . I was so close.


Director’s Notes:

Nice scene, good emotion. I’ll make sure to get the actors to really sell it.

Some issues with the company bigwigs. Seem to think that kicking Chlorophyll off the show will lower ratings.

They’re worried about the show being cancelled. I told them it would be fine!

Will keep cast and crew informed.


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