from the world's big
The formula that predicts every animal’s life story
Life forms on Earth are wildly varied, but scientists discover a single formula that predicts every one's life cycle.
- Earth's species diversity is stunning, but there are a couple of battles we all face.
- Our response to these challenges set the course of our lives.
- Plug in a couple of variables, and a new formula predicts how we live, reproduce, and die.
The diversity of life on Earth is mind-boggling. What could humans, octopuses, birds, and plankton possibly have in common? Well, the truth is that all of us/them have evolved to overcome some of the same biophysical constraints. As a result, says a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, certain universal rules can be derived that encompass all of our life histories.
"If you impose these constraints on the mathematical model, then certain unifying patterns fall out," says ecology and evolutionary biology postdoctoral fellow Joseph "Robbie" Burger, of the Institute of the Environment and the Bridging Biodiversity and Conservation Science program at the University of Arizona.
Our common struggles
Image source: Budimir Jevtic/Shutterstock
"The life histories of animals reflect the allocation of metabolic energy to traits that determine fitness and the pace of living. Here, we extend metabolic theories to address how demography and mass–energy balance constrain allocation of biomass to survival, growth, and reproduction over a life cycle of one generation." — Burger, et al
These challenges present themselves in different ways in different habitats, and so our responses vary. Nonetheless, we all aspire to survive for a while, reproduce, and get out of the way of our offspring. Whether one is a turtle laying millions of eggs on a beach or an elephant giving birth to one calf at a time, our goals are essentially the same.
The study begins with an axiom: "Energy is the staff of life." The sustainable allocation of energy is therefore something all species need to establish in order to survive. According to the study, there are two areas in which workable tradeoffs have to be found for any creatures:
- A "mass–energy balance. . . so that over a lifespan in each generation, all of the energy acquired. . . is expended on respiration and production, and energy allocated to production exactly matches energy lost to mortality."
- A "constraint on mortality so that, regardless of the number of offspring produced, only two survive to complete a life cycle of one generation."
Predicting a species’ life cycle
Image source: Ihnatovich Maryia/Shutterstock
Burger and his colleagues derived a predictive formula informed by a species' response to the two constraints.
"What's so cool about these equations," says Burger, "is that to solve it, all you have to know are two values — the size of the offspring at independence and the adult size. If you plug that into the equation, you get the number of offspring an organism will produce in a lifetime [as well as] myriad other life history characteristics."
Assembling and analyzing a database of 36 animals' life histories, Burger and his colleagues were able to create a formula that can accurately predict a number of things about any species' life story:
- the length of a species' single generation
- the species' mortality rate
- the number of offspring the species reproduces and the size of the offspring
- the type and extent of parental care common to the species
Prior to the new study, the only widely used formula had been the notion that the smaller the offspring the more of them there were, and vice versa. Burger's finding indicate that things are not quite that simple.
The new formula is of more than academic importance. As we work to understand habitat changes caused by humankind and the species they impact, and as we seek to help those species survive, knowledge of their natural life cycles is invaluable, particularly given the incredible variety of life forms involved, many of whose life stories remain largely hidden from us.
"We now need to put these equations to practice," asserts Burger, "by developing user-friendly programming tools, collaborating with field scientists refine ecosystem models and informing management decisions."
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Got $55 million lying around? If so, you might be able to score a spot aboard the International Space Station starting 2024.
- NASA awarded a contract to startup Axiom Space to attach a "habitable commercial module" to the International Space Station.
- The project will also include a research and manufacturing module.
- The move is a major step in NASA's years-long push to privatize.
Image: Axiom Space<p>But first, space-tourist-hopefuls would have to pass through physical and medical exams, and 15 weeks of expert training. After that, the trip sounds pretty comfy:</p><p>"There will be wifi," Suffredini <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/09/style/axiom-space-travel.html" target="_blank">told the New York Times</a> last year. "Everybody will be online. They can make phone calls, sleep, look out the window. [...] The few folks that have gone to orbit as tourists, it wasn't really a luxurious experience, it was kind of like camping. [...] Pretty soon we're going to be flying a butler with every crew."</p>
A render of the ISS tourist experience.
Image: Axiom Space<p>In a blog post, NASA wrote:</p><p>"Developing commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit is one of <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-opens-international-space-station-to-new-commercial-opportunities-private" target="_blank">five elements</a> of NASA's plan to open the International Space Station to new commercial and marketing opportunities. The other elements of the five-point plan include efforts to make station and crew resources available for commercial use through a new commercial use and pricing policy; enable private astronaut missions to the station; seek out and pursue opportunities to stimulate long-term, sustainable demand for these services; and quantify NASA's long-term demand for activities in low-Earth orbit."</p>
NASA's push to privatize the ISS<p>When a Russian rocket launched the first module of the ISS into space in 1998, NASA expected the space station to operate for about 15 years. But the agency has extended the life of the ISS twice, with funding currently set to expire in 2024. NASA spends between $3 and $4 billion per year operating and shuttling astronauts to and from the station. That's a decent chunk of the agency's $22.6 annual budget. What's more, the "major structural elements" of the ISS are certified only through 2028.</p><p>Meanwhile, NASA has been eyeing other projects, namely: putting humans back on the moon in 2024 and establishing a lunar presence. So, to save and redirect money, the agency has been starting to hand over the aging space station to the private sector, which could use it for commercial research and space tourism.</p><p>But some have questioned the move to privatize the ISS, including NASA's own inspector general, Paul K. Martin.</p><p>"An obvious alternative to privatization is to extend current ISS operations," Martin wrote in a <a href="https://oig.nasa.gov/docs/CT-18-001.pdf" target="_blank">2018 report</a>. "An extension to 2028 or beyond would enable NASA to continue critical on-orbit research into human health risks and to demonstrate the technologies that will be required for future missions to the Moon or Mars."</p>
Image: Axiom Space<p>Martin noted that "research into 2 other human health risks and 17 additional technology gaps is not scheduled to be completed until sometime in 2024," meaning that any slip-ups in the process would mean such research might go uncompleted. He also wrote that it's "questionable" whether the private sector could turn a profit on the ISS without "significant" government funding. The Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research and development center, <a href="https://docs.house.gov/meetings/SY/SY00/20180517/108302/HHRG-115-SY00-Wstate-LalB-20180517.pdf" target="_blank">also found</a> that it "is unlikely that a commercially owned and operated space station will be economically viable by 2025."</p><p>The implication is that, if the ISS is handed over to the private sector, taxpayers could end up indirectly supporting space tourism for the ultra-rich. Whether that's worth any of the research benefits that might come from the ISS post-2024 is anybody's guess.</p><p>As the ISS enters its final years, China <a href="http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-10/17/c_138479514.htm" target="_blank">plans</a> to complete construction of a manned space station in 2022.</p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
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