Nature stopped taking big chances half a billion years ago. All change in plants and animals since then has been cosmetic - a lion here, a zebra there, here a monkey, there a chimp - let’s add some brains and see what shakes out.
Nature abhors a gradient. This is the deepest fact of life on Earth. There is a gradient between the Pre-Big Bang omniverse and the void. That gradient generated the Big Bang. There is a gradient between the heat of the sun and the void of outer space generating life on Earth. A gradient between life itself and all of outer space that gives rise to all human culture aka the technium. The technium-void duality generates autos, washing machines, I-phones and digital communication and so on down the hierarchy of stuff ad infinitum. Life on Earth emerged and has developed to reduce a gradient.
Prokaryote: a single-cell organism without a nucleus. Bacteria and archaea are prokaryotes. There are more species of bacteria on Earth than any other life form. Bacteria comprise a large proportion of the Earth’s biomass. Archaea are simpler than bacteria and live in extreme environments and were Earth’s first living things 4 BYA (Billion Years Ago)
Eukaryote: An organism whose cells contain a nucleus. Eukaryotes may be single-cell ( but much more complex than bacteria) or multicellular as in all higher forms of life. Plants and animals are eukaryotes. All cells in a human have nuclei. Mnemonic: Humans like YOU - EU are EUkaryotes. All plants are eukaryotes.
“There never was a simple eukaryote cell - all complex life evolved from symbiosis of a primitive archaea and a bacterium. The cell nucleus and all other organelles evolved after this merger.” - Professor Bill Martin
All forms of animal and plant multicell life evolved from the merger of an archaea and an energetic bacterium - a single event in the history of life. Neither of these independent, free-floating prokaryotes had a nucleus or any complex organelles seen in cells today or 2 billion years ago at the time of this fateful merger. The energy gained by the acquisition of the energetic bacterium fueled the evolution of cell complexity, multicell life and the speedy evolution of diverse forms enabled by sexual reproduction i.e. the mixing and matching of two separate genomes for an improved model.
If biologists were carved into Mount Rushmore the four heads would be Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, James Watson and Lynn Margulis. Lynn Margulis ! Who the hell is she ! Lynn Margulis, when a grad student in 1967 , wrote a scientific paper called “On the Origin of Mitosing Cells” that proposed that chloroplasts and mitochondria, the vital energy-producing organelles in every eukaryotic cell, were ancient free-swimming microbes that merged into a neighbor cell to form a potent symbiotic duo that has evolved from a single-cell organism into all subsequent multicellular plants and animals on Earth for past two billion years. Margulis was ignored, marginalized or disparaged for many years after the publication of her paper but she persevered with her revolutionary theory and with the techniques of genetics developed during the late 1970s, her theory gained traction. Biologists now believe that this symbiosis was the single most important event in the history of life on Earth. It made all multicell life possible and gave rise to sexual reproduction and wide opportunities for cell complexity, purpose and genetic variation-evolution. Margulis’ reputation evolved from that of a shunned outlier to widely hailed genius in ten years.
Why was this Margulis Merger of simple but energetic bacterial cell and plain simple archaea so successful two billion years ago? What was happening inside cells that was not happening during life’s first 2.5 billion years? This new partnership greatly accelerated the role of life as a gradient reducer. Life was now going to help the cosmos reduce the difference between the chaos of the sun and the orderly cold, dark stillness of empty space at a much greater rate. Life exists to restore the order of emptiness. The bacterial partner of this historic merger evolved into mitochondria ( chloroplasts in plants - the things that make plants green). Mitochondria are tiny boiler rooms with thousands of molecular engines ( ATP synthase proteins), nano proton pumps, whirring and chumbling as they reduce atomic gradients across mitochondrial / chloroplast inner membranes. Proton pumping molecules generate and store energy used throughout the cell for protein production, cell replication, neuron signaling and all other cell functions day and night for the lifetime of the plant or animal. The Margulis Merger between bacteria and archaea ( see: Martin and Muller theory for details) speeded up life by a power of ten. Nature loves this successful, long-lived marriage of microbes. The merger greatly accelerates the reduction of the solar-void gradient. Big life speeds up the race to nothingness - nature’s comfort zone.
How did this marriage of two small, inefficient prokaryotic organisms occur? 2.5 BYA the Earth was all ocean teeming with trillions and trillions of archaea, bacteria and viruses-all very simple life forms with no cellular complexity. Due to the effects of orbital precession ( Earth’s wobbly diversion from a perfectly elliptical orbit in a perfect plane around the sun) and axial precession ( Earth’s wobble about its axis in 40,000 year cycles that cools and warms the planet) Earth entered an ice age during which the oceans began to freeze far beyond the polar region to the equator. This freezing created intense overcrowding among microbes. The albedo effect of a snowy Earth further accelerated this ice formation and compressed all microbes into a vast soupy freezing mass. Imagine a vat of rice five miles deep with each grain a living thing. The pressure at the lower reaches is immense, bodies merge, cell barriers are violated. 95% die from the shock of intermixing and the harsh environment. One pair of merged microbes survives with the energy required to fight for a place near the warm water. It warms itself and reproduces around a lens of melted water around its thermal vent. The same vent that created this life two billion years previously. Life had come full circle in the first 2.5 billion years - back to the vent but still as only a single cell with a powerhouse passenger. So we have our merged pair of microbes multiplying in this deep, dark but warm pool of water. A crack forms in the five mile thick ice crust reaching the surface and sunlight. Descendants of the original merged pair move with their new energy up to the light where solar radiation further speeds mutation-evolution. The ice melts over the next 100 million years, oceans gradually reappear and this new form of life, with its built-in powerhouse, thrives and dominates every niche. Land emerges from the sea, oxygenated atmosphere forms. Environments differentiate across the planet and plants and animals differentiate filling every niche. Unicellular life explodes into myriad multicell varieties. The race is on.
JB Questions and Observations:
- Reading a book is a gradient reducer. There is a magnetic gradient between a great unread book and a reader that begs to be eliminated in the service of the universal law of entropy. Reading a book causes life to grow just as life grows from the solar-cosmic gradient reduction engine.
- There is a gradient between an author and a story to be told whether fiction, non-fiction, memoir or cookbook. The stuff of story is a set of events that transpired to reduce social gradients public and private. The protagonist swears “The devil made me do it - the gradient had to be reduced !”
- Our social hierarchy is a finely tuned gradient comprising signals such as net worth, education, manners, age, good cheer and health. Our conspicuous commodities are shorthand messages; symbolic-totemic-talismanic abstractions for wising up others about our social standing in the technium. Dress for success. Where highlife meets lowlife at any of the above, the stuff of story emerges: wealthy woman meets impoverished poet = fireworks. Healthy teen meets autistic new kid on block = drama. Educated flower vendor meets dimwitted aristocrat- hijinx ensue. Combine three gradient disjunctions in each character for drama. Mix n’ match these elements of the great convection engine that is human society. Reverse gradient expectations - rich girl is kinesthetically challenged ( crippled from polio). Poor boy from slums is a mathematical genius, etc. What is a fish out of water ( one of seven classic story tropes) but a gradient waiting to be reduced?
- If the nuclear proteins NOTCH and P53 can make edits to DNA then a G-rev ( positive genetic mutation) at the P53 and or NOTCH gene can affect evolution as much as a great many base pair revisions.
- Are skin pigmentation and muscle composition controlled by mitochondrial proteins? People of different races burn muscle energy at different rates. Mitochondria are the source of all cell energy.
- Is there a link between toxic effects of high fructose corn sweetener and free radical leakage at mitochondria?
- Is the microscopic hydra in the same clade as squid?
- Was Noah’s flood caused by a glacial dam burst similar to the Missoula Flood that washed over Central Washington, Western Oregon and central Montana and covered this vast area in less than a day.
- Would the pressure of a five mile thick ice sheet have caused the lower level to remain unfrozen - a vast, dark, thin and deep ocean all around the globe? Would this glacial-melt ball bearing lubricant layer have made the entire Earth's ice shell subject to tidal pull of the moon? Would the "low tide" inner ice ball surface have crushed one trillion microbes into one another twice each day forcing the issue of symbiosis?
- Could the momentum from a colossal, immediate release of water from a glacial dam burst cause either axial or orbital precession or both?
- Would this water interface between the iceball shell and the rocky Earth act as a ball bearing inducing rotational differential between earth and ice shell? Would rotation differential generate heat warming the deep thin water layer making it more suitable for evolution? Expanding warm water beyond thermal vents to the entire layer of melted ice?
- Are there correlations between Glacier lake- Earth orbital-axial irregularities and evolutionary events in the history of life?
- Has epigenetic inheritance had an effect on human tool use and the development of human culture? Is there hardwired genetic culture memory i.e. human culture transmitted by cellular stuff in addition to books, language etc.?
- There are three, four, five or six kingdoms of life on Earth depending on which scientist you ask. I like the six kingdoms model: 1.Plants-eukaryotes 2. Animals-eukaryotes, 3. Protists-single cell eukaryotes 4.fungi-eukaryotes 5. Archaea-prokaryotes 6. Bacteria-prokaryotes
- The are three domains: 1. Archaea, 2. Bacteria 3. Eukaryotes
- Slime mold has tentacles up to several yards long. Neurons in chordates have axons up to three feet long. Is the human neocortex a slime mold symbiont? Our brainstem covered with 85 billion slime connections evolved from a symbiotic parasite - the source of our “higher” intelligence. Perhaps higher is a misnomer as this explosion of network capacity may turn out to be disadvantageous for planet health.
- Is there more wood in the crossties of railroads or in all wood frame houses?
- Kevin Kelly, former executive editor of “Wired” magazine, proposes a neologism to encompass all of human culture, a single word: The technium - useful !
- What were the health effects of lead water pipes in Ancient Rome. Did decaying mental capacity caused by lead poisoning cause the demise of the Roman Empire?