Biology's Black Hole Explained?
Nick Lane believes he can explain the "black hole" at the heart of biology. And in the process predict traits that even alien life will have. Here are some amazing facts from biology.
Jag Bhalla is an entrepreneur, inventor and writer. His current project is Errors We Live By, a series of short exoteric essays exposing errors in the big ideas running our lives, details at www.errorsweliveby.com. His last book was I'm Not Hanging Noodles On Your Ears, a surreptitious science gift book from National Geographic Books, details at www.hangingnoodles.com. That explains his twitter handle @hangingnoodles.
Biology has a “black hole” at its heart, says Nick Lane.
4. Prokaryotes have ~5,000 genes, but eukaryotes have ~20,000; they’re ~15,000 times larger, with ~200,000 times more energy per gene.
5. Indigestion enabled that energy advantage — one primitive cell engulfed another, but couldn’t digest it. They jointly survived (endosymbiosis) and coevolved, creating biology’s single big bang of complex life.
6. That engulfed cell begat all eukaryotic power plants, e.g., mitochondria, which work by pumping protons against an electrochemical gradient across a membrane (”the most counterintuitive idea in biology since Darwin”).
7. Lane believes all complex life faces similar energy and engineering challenges — extraterrestrials will be transmembrane proton-pumpers.
8. Transmembrane electrical fields reach ~30 million volts per meter ~ equivalent to a lightning bolt (our cells bottle lightning).
9. ATP molecules are life’s energy currency. A eukaryotic cell uses ~10 million ATPs per second.
11. ~80 percent of cell energy goes to making proteins (2 percent DNA). Ribosomes are elaborate nanomachine protein factories (adding ~10 amino acids per second). A human liver cell has ~13 million ribosomes.
12. This energy and protein bonanza enables life’s “baroque complexity.”
14. Each human’s mitochondria (thousands per cell) daily pump as many protons as exist stars in the known universe.
15. Human brains are “wired up ... like a [train] map ... with 86 billion stations connected 30 trillion ways” (Tom Stoppard).
17. Lane sees no “universal trajectory towards complex life.” Proton gradients in hydrothermal vents will generate prokaryotes. But without an endosymbiotic energy big bang there’ll be no eukaryotes (no cell nuclei... sex... plants... animals... tech... ETs phoning home).
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions
The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.
- Mathematicians claim to see a predictive pattern in the ancient Torah texts.
- The code is revealed by a method found with special computer software.
- Some events described by reading the code took place after the code was written.
A glass of juice has as much sugar, ounce for ounce, as a full-calorie soda. And those vitamins do almost nothing.
Quick: think back to childhood (if you've reached the scary clown you've gone too far). What did your parents or guardians give you to keep you quiet? If you're anything like most parents, it was juice. But here's the thing: juice is bad for you.
Orangutans join humans and bees in a very exclusive club
- Orangutan mothers wait to sound a danger alarm to avoid tipping off predators to their location
- It took a couple of researchers crawling around the Sumatran jungle to discover the phenomenon
- This ability may come from a common ancestor
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