45 posts tagged Life
A New Physics Theory of Life
Why does life exist?
Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.” From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life. “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said. England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. “I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.” (via A New Thermodynamics Theory of the Origin of Life | Simons Foundation)
Soylent hits its 1.0 formula, nears release
Soylent, the food replacement from former engineer Rob Rhinehart, has hit one of its final milestones before release: the formula has been finalized and frozen, and large-scale manufacturing and packing is underway. Just after Thanksgiving, Rhinehart posted a blog entry discussing the changes in “Soylent 1.0” versus the beta 0.89 version we consumed for a week back at the end of summer.At the time, the Soylent folks estimated that backers of the company’s wildly successful crowdfunding effort would be receiving their initial shipments of Soylent in December; this estimate has now been revised to January. The main reason for the delay has been due to the small Soylent team having to find ways to cope with the realities of mass-producing their product. The beta packages of Soylent sent out to the small list of testers were all hand-stuffed, whereas the actual production version is being mixed and packaged on an industrial scale by a specialist company called a “co-packer.” (via Soylent hits its 1.0 formula, nears release | Ars Technica)
Seven Molecules’ Claim to Fame Chemistry: These infinitesimal celebrities shape us and our world.
From drinking water to DNA, from caffeine to carbon dioxide, and from Lipitor to Viagra—that is from atorvastatin to sildenafil citrate—molecules define our personalities, regulate our abilities, and dictate our feelings. Invisible to the human eye, many of them are biological celebrities: They famously smell or stink, make us feel depressed or elated, pollute our planet or save our lives. Even the most destructive molecules are so essential to our civilization that modern industry wouldn’t exist without them. Here we describe seven of the most prominent corpuscular figures, without which our life would be completely different. In fact, without some of them, scientists say, there’d be no human life at all.
Cellular “tinkering” is critical for establishing a new engineering discipline that will lead to the next generation of technologies based on life’s building blocks.
Engineering began as an outgrowth of the craftwork of metallurgical artisans. In a constant quest to improve their handiwork, those craftsmen exhaustively and empirically explored the properties—alone and in combination—of natural materials. The knowledge accumulated from this exploration and experimentation with natural building blocks eventually led to today’s modern technologies. We can now readily build things like super-lightweight cars and electrical circuits containing billions of transistors that encode highly sophisticated functions, using reliable design and manufacturing frameworks—a vast leap from artisanal craft.
Today, there is a parallel progression unfolding in the field of synthetic biology, which encompasses the engineering of biological systems from genetically encoded molecular components.1-7 The first decade or so of synthetic biology can be viewed as an artisanal exploration of subcellular material. Much as in the early days of other engineering disciplines, the field’s focus has been on identifying the building blocks that may be useful for constructing synthetic biological circuits—and determining the practical rules for connecting them into functional systems. This artisanal tinkering with cells is necessary for arriving at a rigorous understanding of subcellular construction material and for determining the extent to which it can be manipulated. (via Engineering Life | The Scientist Magazine®)
Does life have a purpose?
Nobody expects atoms and molecules to have purposes, so why do we still think of living things in this way?
One of my favorite dinosaurs is the Stegosaurus, a monster from the late Jurassic (150 million years ago), noteworthy because of the diamond-like plates all the way down its back. Since this animal was discovered in the late 1870s in Wyoming, huge amounts of ink have been spilt trying to puzzle out the reason for the plates. The obvious explanation, that they are used for fighting or defence, simply cannot be true. The connection between the plates and the main body is way too fragile to function effectively in a battle to the death. Another explanation is that, like the stag’s antlers or the peacock’s tail, they play some sort of role in the mating game. Señor Stegosaurus with the best plates gets the harem and the other males have to do without. Unfortunately for this hypothesis, the females had the plates too, so that cannot be the explanation either. My favourite idea is that the plates were like the fins you find in electric-producing cooling towers: they were for heat transfer. In the cool of the morning, as the sun came up, they helped the animal to heat up quickly. In the middle of the day, especially when the vegetation consumed by the Stegosaurus was fermenting away in its belly, the plates would have helped to catch the wind and get rid of excess heat. A superb adaptation. (Sadly for me, no longer a favoured explanation, since latest investigations suggest that the plates may have been a way for individuals to recognise each other as members of the same species).
READ OF THE DAY… keep on reading
1) Infinite players cannot say when their game began, nor do they care. Their game is not bounded by time. Indeed, the only purpose of the game is to keep it from coming to an end, to keep everyone in play.
2) Since each play of an infinite game eliminates boundaries, it opens players to a new horizon of time. Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.
3) Infinite players regard their wins and losses in whatever finite games they play as but moments within a larger field of continuing play that extends beyond the finite game.
4) The rules of an infinite game must change in the course of play. The rules are changed when the players of an infinite game agree that the play is imperiled by a finite outcome—that is, the victory of some players and the defeat of others.
5) To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence.
6) What is your future, and mine, becomes ours. We prepare each other for surprise.
7) Infinite players do not oppose the actions of others, but initiate actions of their own in such a way that others will respond by initiating their own.
8) Our social existence has an inescapably fluid character. Society is a finite game. Culture is an infinite game. Where society has boundaries, culture has a horizon. Every move an infinite player makes is toward the horizon.
9) It is apparent to infinite players that wealth is not so much possessed as it is performed.
10) Infinite players are concerned not with power, but vision, and the freedom to change ourselves.
Wildcat: Like the writer of this essay quoting these ten points I cannot recommend enough this book.