Archives for category: biology

The Earth is covered by atmosphere.
Some of the gases might have belonged to the original ‘cloud’ which had given birth to the solar system. Others have originated from the Earth itself. And still others are a ‘consequence’ of ‘life’. Oxygen, for instance. And some of the CO2.

The land crust has rocky cliffs and fertile plains.
While the rocky cliffs are a consequence of geology, the fertile topsoil is the consequence of the elements having eroded the cliffs, the debris being transported by flowing water, plant life taking hold and slowly transforming some of the minerals into organic matter, animals eating some of the plants and transforming them into feces, micro-organisms digesting/recycling those feces together with the dead plants and animal carcasses… And so on.

Primitive life forms, Bacteria and Archea, “are organisms whose cells lack a membrane-bound nucleus, mitochondria and other membrane-bound organelles…. All the intracellular water-soluble components (proteins, DNA and metabolites) are located together in the same volume enclosed by the cell membrane, rather than in separate cellular compartments.

More ‘sophisticated’ life forms are organisms which have “a nucleus and organelles bounded by internal phospholipid membrane systems. In contrast to bacteria and archaea, eukaryotes may be multicellular. Animals, plants, fungi…. “
So, in this case, living cells have internal divisions, each surrounded by ‘secondary’ membranes. Furthermore, this type of organisms may consist of more than one cell. Many of them – including us, humans, actually comprise many layers of cells. Skin, muscle, bones, ‘internal’ organs, brain… Each of them carefully constructed using building blocks taken, with the help of the digestive system, from the environment.

Making a parallel between a humble unicellular organism, let’s say an amoeba, and a proud ape we’ll notice that the role played by the amoeba’s membrane is fulfilled by a host of the ape’s organs. Skin, lungs, digestive system and kidneys are the first to jump up for attention. On a closer examination – amoeba’s membrane keeps the organism together and acts as a locomotion device besides performing the respiratory, digestive and excretory tasks, the ape’s bones and muscles start to beg for attention

But what about the brain? What role does it play? What is it? An ‘internal organ’ or just another descendant of the membrane?
I’ll let you make that call.
I’ll only mention that the brain ingests information, digests it and then ‘excretes’ decisions. Which coalesce into ‘fate’/’destiny’, are remembered as ‘history’ and eventually end up as ‘tradition’.

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I was arguing yesterday that life, as a biological phenomenon, depends on membranes doing their jobs.
Keeping the inside in, the outside out and managing the transit of substances. Nutrients in and excretions out. For some organisms, their ‘membranes’ also act as a thermo-regulators.

‘Watching’ a membrane in action, one might get the impression that it has been endowed with a certain ‘awareness’. The membrane acts as if it were aware of the differences between its inside and its outside. It recognizes what belongs where and keeps them there. It also recognizes nutrients for what they are – and lets them in, and excretions for what they are – and where they should be.
OK, the membrane does what it does simply because it was ‘pre-programmed’ in a specific way, according to the genetic information each organism has received from its predecessors. There’s nothing supernatural involved here. For what we currently know, anyway…

Watching, as a dispassionate outside observer, the evolutionary process unfolding one might get the impression that life itself has a certain awareness.
‘Rules of life’, read genetic information passed along from one generation to another, are diligently updated to fit the changes in the environment. Nevermind that the whole process is ‘impersonal’, ‘goal-less’ and is fueled by haphazard trial and error, the end result is what we currently consider to be ‘learning’!
That’s what we try to code into our artificially intelligent machines, don’t we?

Further more, recent research points out that individual organisms share information with their brethren.
Bacteria can share antibiotic resistance genes through lateral transfer.
Physarum polycephalum, a unicellular organism, seems to be able to share information already learned when it comes in contact with other members of the species.
Plants “can “talk” in several different ways: via airborne chemicals, soluble compounds exchanged by roots and networks of threadlike fungi“.

Since communication itself is a process which implies the ability to differentiate between a ‘run of the mill’ situation and one special enough to warrant the effort to ‘talk’ about it, I find all these to be compelling arguments for life itself to be considered as implying certain forms of awareness.

According to ‘science’, life is nothing but a process through which (genetic) information is passed, with small alterations, from one generation to another and during which the environment is, however minutely, changed by whatever the living organisms do during their lifespans.

‘Individually’ – organism by organism, life takes place inside a ‘membrane’. Which you might call it ‘skin’, if you like.
That membrane separates the ‘inside’ – the living organism, from the ‘outside’ – otherwise known as the ‘environment’.
Each individual organism continues to be alive for as long as the membrane manages to keep the inside in, the outside out AND to properly regulate the exchanges between the inside and the outside.
This being the moment when we need to remember that each living organism needs to eat, to drink, to breathe and to excrete. Meaning that it needs a more or less continuous flow of certain substances from the outside and to periodically clean itself. And the moment to understand that each organism continuously changes its environment. By incorporating some of it while feeding/breathing and by ‘polluting’ it when ‘throwing out’ the by-products of its metabolism.

For all the activity above to take place, each individual organism needs to follow some ‘rules’. It’s ‘membrane’ needs to ‘know’ which substances to allow in and which to keep out. Which substances to throw out and which to keep it.
To perform all these duties, the membrane itself needs to be organized in a certain manner. For all to happen as it should, the ‘interior’ has to be organized in a certain – and specific, manner.

On the other hand, for any (set of) rule(s) to make sense, it has to be congruent to the situation it ‘attempts’ to manage. For instance, the rule about what substances are to be ‘allowed in’ has to be adapted both to the specific needs of the organism following it AND to what substances are available in the particular environment in which that organism attempts to survive/thrive.
Since the environment in which the living process attempts to take place is subjected to continuous change – both as a consequence of organisms living in it and as happenstance happening, the ‘rules of life’ cannot be ‘set in stone’.
For life to continue in a consistent manner, it has to preserve its rules while for life to survive in an ever-changing environment it has to adapt its rules to fit the changes in the environment.
This being where evolution takes charge.

That’s why the life we’re familiar with, ours, is comprised of successive generations of many individual organisms which somehow pass genetic information (rules of life) from one another. The fundamental ‘trick’ which makes everything possible being that during the ‘passing’ process the genetic information is slightly altered.
Sometimes with beneficial results – those individuals thrive and, eventually, new species appear. Other times, the results are tragic. The individuals which receive bad – read unfit, rules of life do not survive.
Equally tragic is the fate of those species, otherwise ‘successful’ until that moment, which, at some point, are confronted by so momentous changes in their environment that they are no longer able to adapt. Dinosaurs are the first examples which come to my mind but the list is so long that we’ll never learn about all of them.

A pessimist might conclude that life is all about species and that individuals are expandable.
Au contraire, mon cher ami. Since there’s no way in hell – or in heaven, for anybody to know which individual organism has that particular piece of information which will enable their successors to survive the next alteration in the environment it would be rather dense to consider any individual as being expandable. In fact, it was the ‘individualization’ of the living process that made possible the evolutionary process.

Life is about both individuals and species, simultaneously and with equal importance.

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