There it is. Our home. To us it seems like such a huge place where we will never meet all our neighbors. A place where we live our daily lives consumed with news and opinions from all directions. We work. We play. We do silly stuff like fight wars or think we are the best at this sport or that.
Now look at the picture. Could you spot ‘us’ without the circle? As the dominant species on our planet, we think we are on top. We can explore our Moon. We can travel to our neighbor planet with robots. It is said the human brain is the most complex piece of matter in the known universe.
All Mother Nature can do is chuckle.
As the above image easily shows, it is all about perspective. Our grandeur is self-inflated. Despite the best efforts and actions of us on Earth, Mother Nature will always have the upper hand. She gives us room to explore. She allows us to make strides, great and small. But inevitably, she always reminds us we can not walk confidently on our journey. Stellar threats are all around; invisible until the time of their death in our black or blue sky. Prehistoric mass extinctions to modern day injuries and destruction in Russia last year.
Mother Nature does not speak any of our earthly language. She only speaks the language of the universe. The language we wish to learn through our research and study. The language we long to understand for it will tell us our true history…from the beginning.
On this International Women’s Day, remember, we are all very important to ourselves. However, our great Mother still laughs at us.
Thanks to the decreasing costs of sequencing genomic DNA, finding novel microorganisms that add to our understanding of metabolism in myriad environments is becoming common place. Not only are we learning about the diversity of life in extreme environments, like heat, cold, pressure, and altitude, but we are also learning what life on other planets may be like. With each additional genome added into ‘the cloud’, our synthetic biology toolbox gets a little bit bigger and our ability to manipulate tiny organisms to produce novel compounds is possible. Enter the “rushing fireball”.
Pyrococcus furiosus is an archeal species that thrives near deep-sea thermal vents where temperatures are between 90 and 100 degrees Celsius (or 194 to 212 degrees F). P. furiosus can grow at temperatures as low as 70 degrees C (158 deg F). To live in such conditions, this organism’s proteins must be tolerant to what we would consider harsh conditions. This organism’s ambient conditions makes wild-type proteins well-suited for industrial processes where temperatures are near boiling.
So far, P. furiosus has been utilized to produce 3-hydroxypropionic acid, a common industrial chemical used to make various products including acrylics. The kicker is that these cells were wired to make this chemical from atmospheric carbon dioxide. It is not crazy to think of what other useful products can be produced by P. furiosus with small modifications within the genome; products like ethanol or butanol as biofuels.
As humans, we are contributing to global warming every time we breathe. Luckily, this contribution doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. The amount of carbon dioxide we excrete while breathing is easily converted to other molecules by other organisms on Earth. We, as humans, number roughly 7 billion. That is a lot of carbon dioxide. However, we are outnumbered by plants and trees by several orders of magnitude that consume this carbon dioxide and convert it back to the oxygen we so desperately need and make carbohydrates in the process.
Now, think about this: 7 billion humans converted to microbes living in the soil would amount to a pinch of soil. As you should know, there is much more than a pinch of soil on the planet, and that does not take into account the waters of Earth. So, doesn’t it make sense that what these microbes take in and “breathe” out has a much much greater impact on the composition of our atmosphere? Luckily, microbes, in the general sense, don’t breathe carbon dioxide under most conditions and some microbes like algae consume carbon dioxide like plants and give us oxygen in return.
The figure above shows how simplistic plants and animals are compared to prokaryotes in regards to what we all “breathe”. This is not an exhaustive list of molecules microbes use; it’s just one small group of bacteria from the genus Geobacter. This complexity helps put things in perspective.