Monday, July 6, 2015

Humans an annual; bacteria a perennial

The single human species can be thought of as an showy but short lived annual with the hundreds of thousands of unspectacular bacteria species as the perennials of major lifeforms.

Today's typical born-in-North-America human reproducing unit consumes enough energy and materials over a typical 25 year generation period to reproduce about a billion trillion trillion of individually slightly different bacteria in the same period of time.

Humans need hundreds of energy slaves to maintain their life style and even then many couples have only one or none kids - kids that take 25 years for themselves to be able to reproduce.

And of course, it takes two adults to make a baby.

Bacteria need very little material and energy to reproduce, sometimes in as little as 25 minutes, not years, and don't need a mate either.

They operate collectively as a vast world wide quasi lending library of genes - every bacterial a potential lender or borrower of 'sometimes useful' unique genes.

This would be far too expensive a library, in metabolical terms, for all bacteria to make all these genes all the time.

But when bacteria somewhere on Earth suddenly need one of these rare genes, they quickly obtain it from other bacteria that hold that particular rare gene, via horizontal gene transfer, HGT.

So while somewhat simple individually, overall the bacteria family is complex enough to handle almost any curve ball the changing environment can throw at it.

But above all, bacteria have evolved downward in size and movement and reproductive choice ( cloning) as to need very little energy and matter to survive, endure and in better times, reproduce.

Put another way, bacteria are not just Life's fastest breeders - they are also its slowest.

Bacteria can survive a hundred and fifty years or more barely alive before they get enough energy and material to reproduce, allowing this form of life to survive on one billion trillion trillionth of what a human couple would need to survive upon.

Human civilization is all very elaborate and showy but without a massive steady flow of energy and material to sustain it will quickly collapse.

A few thousand humans could live on as hunter gatherers in a moderately impoverished world - below that level of subsistence, they do would die out and vanish for all time as a species.

Meanwhile, those barely mobile tortoises of Life/ those non-spectacular perennials of Life (the bacteria) end up finishing the race of Life well ahead of the more showy annuals and speedier hares.

And what we humans need to ask ourselves : is true 'Progress' better defined as a matter of shortlived Annuals or of long living perennials ?

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