Thursday, May 06, 2010

How to harvest a planet for energy


Caleb Scharf on the Shadow Biosphere
A truly wonderful paper was published a couple of years ago in which Falkowski, Fenchel and Delong laid out the big picture for life on Earth. In essence, they argue that single-celled microbial life is the manifestation of an even deeper truth; the core planetary gene set. This is the set of recipes for metabolism, or how to harvest a planet for energy, and we all rely on them. [emphasis added] The result of billions of years of natural selection, these genes are widely dispersed across the microbial biosphere. This is true to such an extent that should 99% of life be wiped out by an asteroid collision, supervolcano, or dirty telephone receiver, the information for the molecular machinery that drives all organisms will be safely preserved in the surviving 1%. The living world does not end, it just reboots. Because of this, carbon-based life is a far more robust phenomenon than we could have ever imagined. It is the ultimate, Google-like, cloud computer.

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