Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
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
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.