As a child, I visited Vancouver’s Science World on what was probably a monthly basis. I knew most of the stage shows by heart (‘Arcs and sparks’ was the most energetic, complete with exploding pickle), along with the dramatic vocal introduction at the OMNIMAX theatre.
One display I remember well was located in the main atrium area. It was a scale that weighed you and then told you in a robot voice how much it would cost to buy lab-grade versions of all the chemicals that comprise you. It would say: “You contain $1.24 worth of carbon” or “You contain $0.03 worth of iron”. At the end, it said that you had a monetary value of X amount “give or take a few cents”.
In a way, the display illustrates that is remarkable about biology. You can take utterly mundane stuff – air and soil – and turn it into astonishingly complicated chemicals and structures, everything from the complex fragrances of flowers to DNA to the core of an oak tree to a human brain. Botany and plant cultivation are a kind of alchemy precisely because of how they allow the transformation of garden-variety raw materials into complex products. You can have all the materials necessary to make a wombat, but there is really no way to put them together in the right way unless you have a couple of fertile wombats on hand as well.
The same reality intersects with the practice of organ donation. Right now, a mass of a few kilograms located inside my thoracic cavity might be a highly-valuable liver or kidney. Without the benefit of a functioning circulatory and immune system – or, failing that, proper care and refrigeration – it becomes a near-worthless lump of meat in just a few hours. We’re made of cheap stuff; the added value is in the organization.