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.
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
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Research by neuroscientists at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory helps explain how the brain regulates arousal.
The big day has come: You are taking your road test to get your driver's license. As you start your mom's car with a stern-faced evaluator in the passenger seat, you know you'll need to be alert but not so excited that you make mistakes. Even if you are simultaneously sleep-deprived and full of nervous energy, you need your brain to moderate your level of arousal so that you do your best.
A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.
- Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
- The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
- According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
When these companies compete, the people lose.
- When a company reaches the top of the ladder, they typically kick it away so that others cannot climb up on it. The aim? So that another company can't compete.
- When this phenomenon happens in the pharmaceutical world, companies quickly apply for broad protection of their patents, which can last up to 20 years, and fence off research areas for others. The result of this? They stay at the top of the ladder, at the cost of everyday people benefitting from increased competition.
- Since companies have worked out how to legally game the system, Amin argues we need to get rid of this "one size fits all" system, which treats product innovation the same as product invention. Companies should still receive an incentive for coming up with new products, he says, but not 20 years if the product is the result of "tweaking" an existing one.
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