Survival by changing the rules of the game?

The enthusiasm and excitement shown by Biologists is indeed contagious. Recently my daughter sent me a link to a news clipping with a remarkable photograph carrying an equally exciting caption which says “Tourists discover Blood water falls”. One can not wait a second more to go straight to the web link to see those stunning photographs and the write-up. Let me take you straight to the news item… check it out… http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/03/02/sign-of-the-apocalypse-blood-waterfalls/ Isn’t it survival against heavy odds? This is what these microbes have demonstrated. microbes zindabaad! Now,let us move on to the scientific speculations: The lake was trapped beneath a glacier in an oxygen free environment over two million years ago… so probably the salinity and iron are the natural constituents of the lake from that era. Its a marine lake, not fresh water. That explains the presence of salt as well as the prevailing subzero temperatures even in liquid state(you may recall that freezing point of water goes down when it is saturated with salt) .The presence of iron might be due to chemical weathering of underlying rocks, by the scouring action of the glacier. Why the red colour? No, the red colour is not due to blood or hemoglobin. Microbes don’t contain hemoglobin. It is due to the presence of iron. Next,the most important question is how do they survive in an oxygen free environment? Oxygen is needed in all cell types, to produce energy from glucose. (Oxygen is constantly reduced to water in all cells in the process of producing energy from glucose). What is amazing about these microbes is that they had to use sulfur instead of oxygen since they were buried inside in an oxygen-free environment over 2 million years, in total isolation from the outside world. There are many such microbes in hot water springs and volcanic areas, which use Sulphur. But they all convert sulphur into hydrogen sulphide,H2S. (just like we convert oxygen to H2O). The weird thing about these organisms is that the Sulphur is regenerated to its original form and recycled,while iron is converted to its reddish form and then back to its colourless form.(To put it scientifically,it transfers the electron to iron(III) – that is the reddish thing in the lake water- and reduces it back to Fe(II)). It appears the organism is forced to recycle sulphur because it(sulphur) is in short supply. What an amazing ingenuity? A somewhat similar case of survival mechanism against heavy odds is that of one group of fish called ‘Notothenioid’ in freezing temperatures of Antarctic ocean. How do they survive? It was discovered that they release an ANTIFREEZE protein continuously to ensure that blood doesn’t get frozen. This is akin to adding an ANTIFREEZE chemical(glycols)into the radiator fluid in an automobile to keep it circulating even in subzero temperatures. The significance of these findings is that an organism left to itself in total isolation,is capable of evolving (over 2 million years in this case)into a life form with a totally different mechanism using sulphur instead of oxygen. And since even sulfur is in short supply,it seems to be recycling the same(that is using it as a catalyst). ‘Life finds a way’ (recall the famous lines from the film JURASSIC PARK?). The purpose of all life forms seems to be simply to find immortality by survival and perpetuation at all costs. How else can one explain the survival of these literally God-forsaken creatures thrown out there in a God-damned place for more than 2 million years! They have shown perseverance,ingenuity and a will to survive over evolutionary time. It is the same game all life forms, including humans, have been playing since times immemorial. Self preservation is written all over our Genes and everything that we do is instinctively dictated by this desire.

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Published in: on May 1, 2010 at 4:47 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. I also heard on National Radio recently that scientists have recreated the dinosaur blood. In doing so, they found that the blood had antifreeze properties in it which allowed them to survive the extreme cold in that era!

    This means, in future, we will probably find a way to alter our body functioning to work on alien planets… or extreme weather conditions! amazing!


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