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A Momentary Flow

Evolving Worldviews

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47 posts tagged Life

These Are Some of the Oldest Living Things on Earth
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Animals sometimes sleep inside the hollows of giant 2,000-year old baobab trees inside Kruger Game Preserve in South Africa. Humans too, sometimes use the trees, for more dubious purposes — a jail, a toilet, a pop-up bar — as photographer Rachel Sussman discovered when she toured the park to photograph the trees for her new book, The Oldest Living Things in the World. The very oldest living things on the planet, scientists believe, are Actinobacteria that have inhabited underground permafrost in Siberia for up to 600,000 years. But ancient life survives on every continent, from 5,500-year-old Antarctic mosses, to a 100,000-year-old Mediterranean sea grass meadow, to 12,000-year-old creosote bushes in the Mojave desert, to the Tanzanian lomatia, a 43,600-year-old tree so endangered that only a single individual exists. (via These Are Some of the Oldest Living Things on Earth | Science | WIRED)

These Are Some of the Oldest Living Things on Earth
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Animals sometimes sleep inside the hollows of giant 2,000-year old baobab trees inside Kruger Game Preserve in South Africa. Humans too, sometimes use the trees, for more dubious purposes — a jail, a toilet, a pop-up bar — as photographer Rachel Sussman discovered when she toured the park to photograph the trees for her new book, The Oldest Living Things in the World. The very oldest living things on the planet, scientists believe, are Actinobacteria that have inhabited underground permafrost in Siberia for up to 600,000 years. But ancient life survives on every continent, from 5,500-year-old Antarctic mosses, to a 100,000-year-old Mediterranean sea grass meadow, to 12,000-year-old creosote bushes in the Mojave desert, to the Tanzanian lomatia, a 43,600-year-old tree so endangered that only a single individual exists. (via These Are Some of the Oldest Living Things on Earth | Science | WIRED)

A New Physics Theory of Life
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Why does life exist? 
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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)

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)

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)

It can be unsettling to contemplate the unlikely nature of your own existence, to work backward causally and discover the chain of blind luck that landed you in front of your computer screen, or your mobile, or wherever it is that you are reading these words. For you to exist at all, your parents had to meet, and that alone involved quite a lot of chance and coincidence. If your mother hadn’t decided to take that calculus class, or if her parents had decided to live in another town, then perhaps your parents never would have encountered one another. But that is only the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Even if your parents made a deliberate decision to have a child, the odds of your particular sperm finding your particular egg are one in several billion. The same goes for both your parents, who had to exist in order for you to exist, and so already, after just two generations, we are up to one chance in 1027. Carrying on in this way, your chance of existing, given the general state of the universe even a few centuries ago, was almost infinitesimally small. You and I and every other human being are the products of chance, and came into existence against very long odds.

Why does the universe appear fine-tuned for life? – Tim Maudlin – Aeon

Keep in mind that life on Earth isn’t going to be getting easier throughout all that future time—it will be getting harder, as the planet becomes less and less conducive for complex life. So we may have—we may be—the only chance available for life on Earth to somehow escape a final, ultimate planetary and stellar death. If we don’t do that, then the book’s title would become a prophecy: After fading into oblivion, the sum total of life’s history on Earth will only be billions of years of solitude.

Are We Alone? - Ross Andersen - The Atlantic
Engineering Life
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®)

Engineering Life

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®)

If there is life on Mars, it’s not too farfetched to believe that such Martian species may share genetic roots with life on Earth, based on RNA or DNA. That’s because more than 3.5 billion years ago, a blitz of meteors ricocheted around the solar system, passing material between the two fledgling planets. This may have left bits of Earth on Mars, and vice versa, creating a shared genetic ancestry between the two planets. Such a theory holds great appeal for Christopher Carr, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. He’s building a DNA sequencer that he hopes will one day be sent to Mars, where it can analyze soil and ice samples for traces of DNA and other genetic material.

Detecting DNA in space | KurzweilAI