Is there life on Mars? Again Microbes hold the key

Earliest life of single cell evolved into 3 branches having distinct traits. The branches further subdivide into more branches on the evolutionary tree of life called Phylogenetic tree of life. The first three branches are called Bacteria, archaea and Eucaryota.

450px-Phylogenetic_tree

As we can see in this tree, there is a member of archaea family with the name Methanogen. This microbe holds the answer for presence of vast quantities of methane which is trapped inside the ice cages called methane hydrates. These hydrates are found on Earth in the permafrost regions having very low temperatures or under the deep sea floor. Water molecules arrange themselves into octahedral cubes in which molecules of many compounds can fit into them. These are called clathrate compounds. These structures are very fragile and as soon as the overhead pressure is reduced or temperature increases, the structure crumbles and gas is released. So special technology is required to produce the methane from hydrates. In US, carbon dioxide was pumped into the hydrate layer. It substituted into the cages releasing the methane free. It served two important purposes. First the production of fuel gas methane and sequestration of unwanted carbon dioxide. These microbes use carbon dioxide and hydrogen to make their food and also generate methane and water. These microbes are very enterprising. They can use alternative sources of carbon like acetates which are the products formed by another kind of bacteria by breaking the macro-molecules present in the buried organic matter, for their food. One thing these tiny beings hate is oxygen. They work in anaerobic environments like deep buried locations.

Now this microbe is being held responsible for the methane gas found on Mars indicating that there is life on the planet. It means Mars is not a dead planet. Professor James Kasting said if there is anything alive on Mars at this time in its history, it would probably be some form of microbial life living deep beneath the planet’s surface. Perhaps the most likely form of microbial life is a type of bacteria known as methanogenic bacteria, or methanogens for short. The CO2 needed by the methanogens could presumably come from the atmosphere. The H2 could come from chemical reactions between water and certain types of rocks, specifically magnesium- and iron-rich basalts. Such rocks are found on certain parts of the seafloor today on Earth. When they react with water, they form minerals called serpentine minerals. In the process, hydrogen is produced. The reaction that produces methane is thermodynamically favorable, so Methanogens could use the energy released by this reaction to drive their metabolism. Microbes can make many reactions happen at much lower temperature by changing the path of reactions through enzyme catalysts which these microbes synthesize.

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Algae: A machine to make energy

In the beginning there was carbon dioxide, water and sunlight on our Earth and its environment. The same carbon dioxide which is the end product of today’s industrial processes. The factories spew carbon dioxide. Scientists are finding ways to fix this carbon dioxide which is the major cause of greenhouse effect and results in trapping the heat and disallows it dissipate and result in Global warming.

Whereas in the present climate living beings mostly use oxygen to breakup the food and convert it to glucose and energy, in the beginning only organism that thrived on carbon dioxide was called green algae. It mastered the art of harvesting sunlight by a process called photosynthesis in which it converted the freely available carbon dioxide and water into glucose which it used as food. But along with the glucose, another product was formed which we call oxygen and cannot live without.

Now the families of these algae, again seem to be rescuing us from the crisis of energy. The mineral oil and coal, major sources of energy are not inexhaustible and considering there rate of consumption, there is a concern to find the alternate sources of energy. One example is ethanol manufacturing from the corn.

Algae is holding the promise to save us again. The green covering on the ponds looks very unattractive but these tiny globules contain lipids which can be converted into the biofuels. Some of these also contain hydrocarbons. These algae sequester the carbon dioxide infused into the environment and helps cleaning the atmosphere.

At this stage, efforts are on to increase the yield of biomass and make it commercially viable. For this favorable conditions are being created to grow the algae into the open ponds where yield shall be more due to availability of sunlight also. Algae is attacked by some aquatic species called rotifers. Efforts are on to create the media which shall do away with all these problems.

Besides the energy in the form of lipids, there are algae which are excellent diet supplement because they contain a myriad number of minerals and proteins. One such algae is spirulina which is very popular among the people who want to become slim by shedding the weight.

Simply Mind Boggling

Scientists speculate that all the fundamental particles were created from the energy immediately after the Big Bang event in which Universe was formed. Then these atoms combined in different permutations and combinations and molecules were born. Context of immediately in the cosmic events is not similar to the usual terms with which define our world. It may be millions of years.

Earth was formed but its climate was not like the present day. There was no life except one algae namely “Blue Algae” known in the scientific language as “Cyanobacteria” where “Cyano” stands for blue color. It thrived in the water which occupied 70% surface of the Earth. All around in the atmosphere was carbondioxide and metals existed in the solution form because there was no oxygen to react with them and precipitate them as ores. Iron was the most abundant of them. So this was the scene about 3.5 billions of years ago.

How did these small living beings sustain themselves? Where from did they get the energy? .

They developed the photosynthesis and harvested the energy of Sun. They also did much of the chemistry which resulted in critically changing the composition of gases in the atmosphere. They learned to break the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. They then used the hydrogen along with carbon dioxide to make carbohydrates which are the store house of energy. The oxygen gas which was generated was very reactive and reacted with the metal ions especially iron species and got fixed up and ores were formed. This went on for millions of years. Iron acted as a perfect sink for oxygen which was poison for these bacteria themselves because they thrived in the anaerobic conditions.

But a stage reached when no more free iron ions were available. So the concentration of oxygen began building up in the atmosphere and setting a stage in which the new species of life which use oxygen for breathing to evolve. The life started in the real earnest. The oxygen content stabilized at about 20% by volume in the air. Carbon dioxide has very small percentage. So these humble microbes were responsible for the life as we see today on this Earth.

The algae learned to live with the existing conditions.

How big is the cyanobacteria? It has been estimated that its diameter is about 2 microns if we consider it as a sphere which it is not. But for the sake of simplicity and bring home the point as is done in all the scientific inquiry let us assume that. Such a small size !! But is it really small in comparison to the smaller things nature can go to. Let us compare it to the size of carbon atom. If we calculate the volume of bacteria and volume of carbon atom, and calculate how many atoms of carbon can fit into the bacteria, you shall be surprised that a mind boggling 1000000000000 atoms is the answer. You are in for more surprise if you go down to fundamental particles like electrons and leptons.

So this is the scale at which the machinery of the Nature works. On one side are the atomic sized particles and on the other are gigantic stars. But one thing is sure that at the base of everything are the fundamental particles. It is also a fact that things behave very differently on the different scale levels. Electrons can behave as particles under one set of conditions and as a wave in the diffraction experiments. Or they may be behaving as they are but with our existing knowledge  we try to explain the things the way which give reasonable answers.

So let us salute to the “Cyanobacteria” to create favorable conditions for the existing worlds to forms and initiation of the diverse kinds of species on this Earth.

Time

There is a time which has been made by the God. It is like that river which always flow with same constancy, which never dries up, in which there are no ripples, no high or low tides. There does exist any moon which can cause it to have tides. In fact nothing can change its tranquility. It flows unmindful. It never ceases to flow. There is nary a change even an iota. So this is the time of the God.
This is the basic time. If we represent it in the Cartesian two dimensional space. It shall be represented by a straight line wavering not even by microns.

But for us humans, time has very different meaning. It has tides, floods or droughts. It even flows at different rates. This is like sinusoidal wave overlaying the basic line of time.When we are having happiness and enjoyment, time seems to flying fast. On the other hand, when we are passing through rough patches, time seems to stand still.
The best human is that who tries to minimize these troughs and crests from the curve. More we are nearer the basic time line, more we are closer to nature, or God or call it whatever.

It is Green All Around

The effect of Spring season is different on different species of trees. Some are in great hurry and begin to change their habits at the earliest. Some are very patient and wait on and begin to sprout the beautiful transparent light colored leaves when the leaves of the early starters have already become dull and dark green.

Banyan trees are different. I saw them shed copious quantities of the dry leaves daily with the help of strong breeze. When they became almost skeletons, new copper colored leaves come out all over the tree. The trees look to be made of copper.

There are other trees which do not bring out leaves at all but flowers. Very beautiful golden color bunches hang from the skeleton of branches. The flowers can be seen against the azure skies as backdrop. Another category brings forth both leaves as well as flowers.

What do these trees ask from us? Except a little care when they are small and tender, not to be tinkered with unnecessarily. They give us everything without asking. First of all, all the carbon dioxide which animals generate daily through there metabolism and other means of comfort like factories, electric appliances etc, is taken over by these trees and plants. They eat it and convert it into glucose and higher carbohydrates and release oxygen. These are the things which animals survive on. Thus we see that animals and plants are dependent on one another. So if we release carbon dioxide which exceeds what is required by plants then we have carbon dioxide that causes problems like breathing discomfort and acts as a trap for heat which is generated on the Earth and causes heating. To obviate this we have to have more plants.

Today I took some more photos. Please look closely.

Time

River of Time flows eternally,

It never swells, it never dries,

It is always the same,

Unchanging

It was here before Universe,

It was here before Earth, Stars & Moon,

It does not care, it does not mind,

It never complains

It shall be here rest assure,

When we shall be gone,

Our moon, Sun & stars shall be switched off,

It shall flow eternally,

It shall never grow old,

It was, is and shall be stoic as ever.

Time is the greatest of All.

The story of H2O Molecule

I am a molecule of water. Hydrogen and Oxygen are two elements which combine in the ratio of 2 to 1 to create me. I have abundant siblings on the earth. In fact we make up for about 70% of the earth. I am so small that I can enter into smallest of spaces. My birth place is in the space. We all are so identical that it is impossible to label us with names. We all have only one name and that is water. there are species called homo sapiens  After birth I along with my other brothers began living in a place which people started calling the seas. In the beginning we all lived in one place but many upheavals separated us and we were divided into many parts.

We are always in the ceaseless state of movement. Never had time to rest. We chase each other, collide with each other and collide with surroundings. Some of us move and dance faster than others. When the agile ones get tired, they slow down and hand over the baton to sluggards who in turn become agile. But we are bound to each other. But when the Sun is angry and it is hot, some of us are thrown out from the sea and fly up and up. Then we float aimlessly in the atmosphere. We wander from here and there. But we again come together at places which are cool such as above the mountains and rich vegetation. We join one another so tightly that we cannot remain afloat. We begin to fall towards earth.

So of us fall on the mountains where temperatures are so low that we become hibernated and enter a deeper and longer sleep. Others fall directly on the earth where they flow collectively as one body and travels from high altitudes to low altitudes. Some of us are very curious and collect inside the depression and become confined there for very long periods.  Other more adventurous even penetrate the earth and go deep inside it and remain there for thousands of years. During our journey on the land we take with us members of other communities which disintegrate inside us into their individual entities. Some of us joined on the way with others become a mammoth creature called the river and flow towards our home at sea. It can take us 2 to 6 months time for reaching back.

Our brothers in the confined places called lakes and ponds have to wait  much much longer to reach home. When Sun smiles benignly on them, some of us again escape into the atmosphere and if lucky go back either falling directly into the sea or falling again on the earth and joining the other which have already begun their journey towards home in the form of river.