The number of living cells in an average adult human body has been estimated at 72 trillion.

Here is a picture of a microscopic animal that is made up of just one cell. It is an amoeba and it likes to live in farmyard puddles. This amoeba is called Bob and I think Bob is rather good looking. I expect you do too.

amoeba (400x273)

You see that black part in the middle, well that’s called the nucleus and is Bob’s brain.
When a farmyard is dry, Bob hibernates in the mud at the bottom of a dried up puddle. When it rains Bob suddenly comes to life and becomes the King of “Bob’s Puddle”. It’s a huge world and it’s teeming with food, which is made up of old bits of rotted plants that would be too small for us to see.
So off Bob goes floating round the puddle, surrounding bits of food with his jelly like body and then absorbing them in order to grow. Gradually, Bob gets bigger and bigger until a funny feeling leads to a “change”. Bit by bit Bob splits in two. Each new amoeba is identical to the other and so they will both have to be called Bob.
So now Bob and Bob start feeding on all that food and before long they too both split into two identical Bobs. So now we have Bob, Bob, Bob and Bob, which is four. After not so long we have Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob and Bob, which is eight. I’m sure you are starting to understand that the population of the pool is starting to grow and grow fast. Also, of course, they are all very good looking and totally identical to the original Bob.

Now, there’s an ancient story about a peasant farmer in China who greatly pleases the emperor. He is summoned to the king’s court and asked what he would like as a reward. The farmer sees a chessboard and says he would like a grain a rice to be put on the first square, two grains on the next square, four on the next, eight on the next and so on until the last square is reached. He says he would love that much rice to feed his family. The emperor smiles thinking this is easy and gives his word that the rice will be delivered later in the day. Its only after the farmer has gone that a mathematician points out, “There are not that many grains of rice in the whole world”.

The point of that little story is that Bob is doubling up just like the rice and in that way numbers add up to a huge amount very quickly. For instance, you wouldn’t have noticed the original Bob in a puddle when it was first formed but if there were billions of Bobs then you would notice the brown sludge that seems to collect on the top of farm yard puddles. That’s what a huge number of Bobs look like.

Now let’s say that a football match is arranged between those in the shady part of the puddle and those in the sunny part. Can you imagine the conversation? I think it would go something like this:

“Hi Bob.”

“Oh hello Bob, are you looking forward to the big match?”

“Oh yes. We’re bound to win with a goalie like that.”

“Oh right and who have we got in goal?”

“It’s Bob. You must have heard of Bob.”

“Oh yes, of course I’ve heard of Bob and we’ve also got that brilliant inside forward.”

“Do you mean Bob?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Oh, didn’t you know Bob’s injured and had to drop out?”

“Oh no, who’s the replacement?”

“Not too bad actually, they’ve called up Bob”

“Well, that’s alright then, I know all about Bob, a great goalkeeper. The only thing that worries me now is their centre back, Bob”

“Oh yes, an amazing player.”


It seems to me this would be the most boring world in which to live, as there are absolutely no differences. Most importantly that means no girls or boys so there would be nobody to fancy and nobody with whom you could have an argument.

(In fact this amoeba shouldn’t be called Bob because that’s a boy’s name but I had to pick something.)  

Unfortunately, Bob’s world is even worse than that. There are no differences in such things as colour of eyes and hair. Nobody wears glasses (like me). Everybody has the same sized feet and the exact same colour of skin. Everyone is the same height and has the same shaped nose. Wouldn’t it be awful?

In our world, every time I look out into the playground I’m just so glad that we are all different. I just LOVE the fact that each of us is unique. There is nobody the same as anybody else. There never has been and never will be. Even identical twins are not really identical and their characters are different. I look out the window and I can’t help saying a little “thank you” because I can see different colour hair, eyes, skin, clothes and so much more. That’s what makes life so exciting.

In France they say, “Vive la difference” and I agree. I think I would go mad if everybody was like me. Oh yes, and so would you.

Now let’s go back to our (amazingly boring) puddle and think about what a terrible world it is.

We know the numbers are growing. Let’s say they double every minute. We know that at some point the puddle is going to become full and then the food will finally run out. If we say it first rained at 08.00 so that Bob woke up and that the puddle is full at 11.00, can we work out when the puddle was half full?

 Yes, of course we can. It will be half full at 10.59, one minute before it doubled to full.

Can you imagine the leaders in Bob’s puddle at 10.59 when there is only one minute to go before disaster? If one amoeba happened to mention that perhaps the space was running out they would say, “Don’t be silly, look for yourself. We’ve only used up half the space. There’s no problem and nothing to worry about”. Sadly we know how wrong they are.

Let’s take this one step further and say that at 10.59 just as the population is doubling to fill the puddle, there is a light shower and it is just enough to form a little channel of water to another puddle that is exactly the same size. You might think, “Lucky them, a whole new world to fill”.

However, ask yourself, “How long extra have they got?”

The answer is easy. One puddle is now fully populated and the next puddle is empty and the same size. When the population of the first puddle doubles in the next minute the new puddle is filled in one go. By having a whole, brand new puddle of the same size, the population of Bobs have gained exactly 60 seconds. Perhaps now it’s a bit easier to see how quickly doubling will add up to big numbers very quickly.

I feel sorry for that first Bob waking up and thinking, “This must be heaven, this huge puddle and lots of food.” Not only is Bob doomed to over-population and disaster but every other amoeba will be exactly the same, so poor original Bob will never fall in love and bring up children and try to be a good parent, hoping they will turn out OK. Sadly, Bob knows exactly how every new amoeba will turn out. They are all identical to Bob!

I think we should all be very grateful that we live in our world and make sure we enjoy the fact that everybody is different. It makes for an exciting and fun time.

Vive la difference!




It was very difficult picking a name such as “Bob” and then writing this without using the words like “he” or “him”!