in the Bone
When Kevin Heller was a toddler on Long Island, he happened upon a string bean in the kitchen of his home and asked his mother, "Where do string beans come from?"
Many parents might have replied that they came from the local supermarket or from a farm. Kevin's mother took Kevin out to their backyard garden, broke open a string bean and planted the beans in the ground.
"We waited to see it come out," Kevin recalled, somewhat breathlessly. "It was a unique learning experience."
Kevin told me that story as we sat perched on top of a shoeshine stand in Washington's Mayflower Hotel waiting for the start of the 1989 Westinghouse awards dinner, where Kevin's project on corn genetics was among the forty winners. Kevin, at the time a slight, self-possessed boy of seventeen, was anxious and giddy as he anticipated whether he would place among the top ten money winners, and I was in a rush to soak up information about Kevin's life. And so as the shoeshine man snapped his buffing cloth over our shoes to bring out the extra luster, neither of us made an elemental connection between the string bean story and Kevin's Westinghouse project.
Kevin had investigated the effects of temperature on the jumping genes of maize, or Indian corn. Jumping genes move from one part of a chromosome to another and can disrupt the functioning of the resident genes. Kevin showed that abnormal temperatures create white stripes in corn offspring because they induce a jump