Tuesday 3 March 2009

Ricketts and Blue Green Algae

I argued in my earlier post, Clade and Grade, that the way we view life and it's evolution is flawed.
Not because the facts we have are wrong, but how we interpret them.

There comes a point when our attempts to create a grand tree of life becomes largely meaningless- as I said, like trying to put quarks into the periodic table.

Because statements such as ''We' are related to Bacteria' are actually technically false. We are not.

Animal life is not just BIGGER than Bacteria- it isn't the same thing.

The problem is with our blanket definition of 'Life'. It has become meaningless. The processes by which we came about and which exist still in simpler chain reaction still ongoing are not the same and the family tree of life fails because in our attempts to push cladistics too far we miss out on the obvious fact that we are looking at the wrong tree. WE are not related to Bacteria. But we are composite creations of Bacteria which are.

To see what I mean by this, let's go and look at life from the other angle. As in, not ours. Let us go back and look at viruses and bacteria.

But let us forget that we know WE exist. Not only us, but animal life generally. In fact, let us forget we know of any multicellular life. Or even Eukaryotic life. Let us pretend we are looking under our microscope at viruses and bacteria. And attempting to establish their relationships.

Once we do this, the question of whether we expand the term 'Life' to include viruses now becomes meaningless. In fact, at this level, looking at both viruses and bacteria WITHOUT knowing that any other 'Life' was related to them, we wouldn't ponder the question.

A virus is a series of reactions of any sort that is able to replicate itself. And the conclusions we would draw are that all the viruses present on Earth have certain shared characteristics. Whether or not all groups of viruses shared a common ancestor right at the dawn of time, would be hard to say. The ammonia rich atmosphere of the early Earth with ultraviolet rays directly striking the hydrocarbon molecule filled oceans would probably have seen numerous replicators- viruses- emerge. And they may not in origin even have been organic. The ones that are seem to all use the same methods of passing on their codes. They are all basically Proteins. But how far is that convergent evolution? We can't know.

It's worth noting that viruses probably aren't an unusual feature of the universe. Water, methane, ammonia. If a planet has had these and enough ultra violet light, it would surely have been a crucible where viruses are born.

Of course, if it gave birth to enough, potentially those viruses could have changed the planet itself, as happened here. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

We can clearly see that several of these groups of viruses are related. We classify them into groups depending on their structure. And one group stands out due to the complexity of it's molecular structure. It is clearly the finest viral form of them all. It is the Lord of the Viruses. This virus uses DNA as opposed to RNA to replicate itself, which isn't unique. What is unique is the sheer size of it compared to other viral groups. And the complexity of it's forms. Of which there are many. But basically, it forms a noticeably distinct group of viruses. But nevertheless, still a group of viruses.


The question isn't whether viruses are life, but whether Bacteria are just another group of viruses. And now we've forgotten about life, we can simply add the class of Bacterial viruses to the other groups of viruses. The viruses we group together as Bacteria are simply the most successful. So much so that we regard what they do and what they create as being not only something special, but so remarkably special that at one time we had to postulate an unseen universe and unseen immaterial entities to explain it.

Though of course, at this level, these special Kings amongst viruses aren't doing anything qualitatively different to other viruses. They're just the most advanced. Bigger and better. They set the groundrules. And since then, they've driven 'Life' forward and all other viruses have had to fit in with the world Bacteria created.

And what was that, exactly?

Well, cells, to begin with. But aren't bacteria cells? We call them unicellular life, yes. But they're very different to what we normally think of as cells. We think of a Eukaryote cell asbeing a unicellular organism, but it isn't. Not compared to Bacteria, which truly are individual entities. Whatever an entity means. It's not alive, not in the sense you or I would see it. It doesn't think and doesn't have any senses. It really is just a replicating chemical reaction. The Pro-Choice lobby often justify early abortion by saying 'It's not alive, it's just a ball of cells'.
Well, bacteria isn't even that. It's even LESS life than a sperm. But we'll come to that.

The Eukaryote cell is where it all starts. A cell with a nucleus. We are, of course made up of such cells, as is everything we think of as life, excepting bacteria. And we probably don't think too much of them or think they're particularly advanced complex creations.

Except of course, as creationist point out, they are so complex that the odds of them evolving is a thousand to one.
Good job we can point out that they didn't evolve, not in the way creationists think.

The Eukaryote cell seems to have born twice. There are actually THREE different types of Eukaryote life, but it seems that two types are related.

Basically, a Eukaryote cell is a kind of colony. One strain of bacteria has invaded another and lived inside the other off it's own waste products. And it has also achieved the art of reproducing in tandem with it's host. So it's host not only reproduces itself when it splits, it also reproduces it's guest. And in fact these little symbiotic pairings have recruited more guest bacteria. So the Eukaryote cell is in fact a colony of symbiotic bacterial strains.

The three types of Eukaryote have rather dull names which refer to the number of flagella they have.

Unikonts only have one, Bikonts have two, Ophistokonts have several. A comparison of the the three types show us that Bikonts are actually a different symbiosis, from the other two, who spring from the some colony type.

The difference is that the key strain of bacteria who runs the Bikont show and dictates it's life strategy is- cyanobacteria, what was once called blue green algae. Blue green algae aren't in fact algae, they are bacteria but were once thought of as being very small algae. Because they live like algae, not bacteria. Of course, we had it the wrong way round. The reality is that algae simply carry on doing what he bacteria that drives them does. Red algae and Green algae are devices a particular strain ofcyanobacteria- which we now call the Chlorophyll- has designed to enable it to catch more sunlight.

In fact, what cyanobacteria has done is create a unicellular plant. Plant is a good word, actually, to describe what goes on here, even at the unicellular level and seems to me a good enough name for any Bikont. Most Bikonts are photosynthetic. Only one group of them has progressed towards multicellular forms, and they of course are noticeably green, but the rest; Excavate, Radiolarians, Rhizopoda , etc, are all plants in a loose sense of the word and the word is a good one in the sense that plant means an industrial complex, like a power plant. Because essentially, that is what Bikonts are. Little power plants.

Unikonts and Ophistokonts are quite different. Which is possibly because they aren't driven by cyanobacteria. Really, they are entirely driven by the type of bacteria which led to their formation. To be sure, it's a symbiotic relationship, but that doesn't mean e should ever assume it to be a fair one. After all, we have a symbiotic relationship with dogs. And thus it is with Unikont and Ophistokont cells. The nucleus is the farmer, the rest of it, it's farm. One it was lucky enough to be born in. And what type of bacteria is it that sits at the centre of everyUnikont or Ophistokont cell?

Well, it's closest relative that doesn't live in a cell- is Ricketts.

One problem in the way we see viruses and bacteria, is that we see them as being predatory. They don't CAUSE disease, they ARE disease. Well, not quite. They were around long before we were and didn't evolve just to annoy us. In origin they had to fend for themselves. Find their own food, basically. And their own energy. To begin with, there was lots going free. Lots of ultraviolet light and an ocean where hydrocarbons kept forming. But supply soon outstripped demand, hence the advent of viruses (some strains of bacteria among them) which evolved to live off others and let them do the work. It took a long time to realise that cyanobacteria were just bacteria because of how we saw bacteria. But cyanobacteria are the most populous strain of bacteria around. And they simply live off the sun. They've kind of cornered a niche. Other bacteria too, does it's own work in different ways. Living off volcanic vents and suchlike. But Ricketts, like Chlamydia, lives off others. Chlamydia, of course, never achieved the trick of permanently infecting another strain of bacteria to create a Eukaryote cell. Only two strains of bacteria seemingly, have managed this. And pretty much everything you can see has been the creation of those two. Ricketts and cyanobacteria- the one we once called Blue Green Algae.

Unlike the little bacterial worker co-operative cyanobacteria built, Ricketts was setting up a kind of Archaean pirate ship. Ricketts wasn't a problem for people then, because they didn't exist, but rest assured, it was undoubtedly a pain in the arse to most of the other bacteria. No more of a pain then Chlamydia, but still a predator.

All Unikonts and Ophistokonts essentially live off the pickings of others. Which came first, the Unikonts or the Bikont? Hard to say, except they formed for different reasons. Once they were both around, however, the basic creation of Ricketts diversified into two models of prate ship. The Unikonts are all still Protists, single celled organisms. Their only foray into more complex forms are various types of slime mould. It's not an unsuccessful way to live. Doesn't change the world and us Ophistokonts might well look down on them. But Ricketts probably wouldn't. Ricketts has perfected two forms of pirate ships. One, the Unikonts tackles little bacteria outside of battleships and also attacks these Bikonts who haven't mastered the more complex Bikont strategy of federating together to form vast photon capturing structures that we call multicellular plants. Whereas it's other model, the Ophistokont, has shown itself far more effective here. Whatever developments occurred in the creation of cyanobacteria, the creations of Ricketts could outsmart it.

And the descendants of Ricketts that adopted the life of captains of pirate ships would eventually find that their cousins who hadn't been so smart would of course themselves develop a strategy out of trying to live off the ships Ricketts had created, or to be more precise that it's creations created.

Because from the point of view of Ricketts, we are not it's relative. When it looks down the family tree of the animals (and the fungi), it sees it's own descendants. But also other family trees, those of it's symbiotes. The fact is that Mitochondria is far distantly related to it. The nucleus of all animal cells are close relatives of Ricketts than they are to their own Mitochondria. Mitochondria looks down a whole Ophistokont history in which the Mitochondria have survived that enabled their ship to survive. Those that didn't, died because their cell died, including their master Ricketts that lived and governed them. They have been kept, almost as farm animals. And bred almost as farm animals. From the point of view of the cell, that is what has happened. Each of our cells contains in it several family trees which would fit overeachother perfectly, with each bacterial species having diverged at exactly the same points, because when the mammals split from the reptiles, that split affected all the bacterial species that composed those composites. So the family trees of all these types of bacteria are identical- until we get back to the origin of the cell in the first place.

But it still remains true that every single composite of ANY cell has closer living relatives outside it, than in it.

So the tree of life cannot be fitted into one. Eukaryote family trees- of which there are two- really do have a beginning. Beyond their formation, they do not have ancestors. Their components do. The two different types of Eukaryote life- the Parasite and the Plant- are creations of Ricketts and Cyanobacteria. It represents something new, like the formation of atoms from Protons, Neutrons and Electrons.

On this basis, I'd like to humbly suggest that our understanding of life isn't hampered by a lack of facts, but merely an unwillingness to interpret. Thus I'd like to redefine a number of biological terms with greater clarity than I think they are currently defined;

  • Virus- Any series of chemical reactions which, once commenced is able to replicate it's own origin achieving the result that over a period of time, unless prevented by external circumstances, the total number of such reactions increases exponentially.
  • Bacteria- A category of viruses, all sharing common ancestry and marked out by their vast size relative to other categories of virus. Bacteria replicate using DNA and are the dominant category of viruses on Earth. Bacteria alone amongst viruses have developed the capacity to form co-operative arrangements with other strains ofeachother for their mutual replication.
  • Life- Loosely defined term given to the series of processes associated particularly with the category of viruses termed Bacteria and not, thus far, noted in any other form of matter, though there is no scientific reason this should be implausible. Whilst some would extend the term to any replicating process, it is more generally ascribed to sets of processes which show complex non random behaviour and where it is greater understood how such processes might lead to conscious beings than how such processes themselves could be replicated.
  • Eukaryote- A farm or colony of mutually co-operating viruses which lives and replicates as a single unit. Only three forms are known to exist in the Universe; theUnikont, the Bikont and the Ophistokont, though the existence of others elsewhere is not impossible. Bikonts are Plants- Eukaryotes which act as miniature production units, the other two known forms are Parasites- Eukaryotes which live by consuming the energy and material produced by Plants.
  • Chloroplasta- strain of Bacteria, related to Cyanobacteria, which drive the Eukaryote units known as Bikonts. It is this one of only two forms of Bacteria which have created organic forms visible to the naked eye.
  • Orga- strain of Bacteria, related to Ricketts which lives at the heart of the Eukaryote units known as Unikonts and Ophistokonts. It is thus one of only two forms of Bacteria which have created organic forms visible to the naked eye and must be considered the mostsuccessful strain of Bacteria- and thus the most successful virus- that is known of by one of its results- humanity.
  • Ophistokonts- Parasitic Eukaryotes of Planet Earth. Although not the most numerous of the three known types of Eukaryote, arguably the most successful. The possession of several flagella enables greater versatility and movement and has also made possible a tendancy towards colonial living that is marked amongst the Ophistokonts. Most living Ophistokonts are members of colonial groups the members of which are no longer capable of individual existence. Since the Tonian era, 900 million years before the present, the majority of Ophistokont taxa have evolved as complex symbiotic colonies known as 'Animals' or 'Fungi' and most Ophistokont species have evolved to be part of said colonies.

So perhaps it's worth reflecting. When we talk of a disease of the body, what we really mean is that a virus that isn't one of the ones that has a right to live in us has shown up. Otherwise, of course, that is the whole POINT of us. We were made for a virus to live in. A close cousin ofRicketts. The closest cousin Ricketts has. If it lives, if you can see it, and it's not Green, it's all created by the closest living cousin of a DISEASE. Ricketts.
I have chosen to call this particular strain of Bacteria Orga because- that is the most obvious result of it.

Orga unites other bacteria to itself to form Parasitic Eukaryotes.

But WE, humanity, we're not on that family tree EITHER. We are NOT a Parasitic Eukaryote. We STILL can't put ourselves on that family tree.

But the cells we are made of can.

And to understand that, we need to go up a grade.

In this post, I turned the world of life upside down to see it the way bacteria would and as a result we found out that only bacteria is real. I'm not. Because I'm not one entity. I'm millions of bacteria. As are you. Fortunately our bacteria co-operates so well that we think we're one entity. It's an illusion.

But in the sequel to this post, we're going to treat the Eukaryote cell as a unit. As the entity. We're going to treat THAT as thelifeform , rather than as being a co-operating troupe of lifeforms. In the sequel to this posts, we'll allow EACH Eukaryote to be treated as one entity.

Which, for Choanoflagellates and DRIPS, is what we already do.
So nothing unusual there.

Ah, but we're also going to treat all the others as INDIVIDUAL entities.
And see what doing that tells us about life.


Moggs Tigerpaw said...

Some good points you make. Our cells are actually a sort of mutually co-operative mixture.

Those cells the co-operate in turn to be a dog or a cat... or a Crushed.

Maybe in the right environment you could have "life" made out of interacting magnetic fields? or gravity fields?

Judith said...

Hey! He lives!

Ok, I haven't actually read your post yet, but I was glad to see your comment on my blog after unsuccessfully trying to access your old blog home. I popped right over to say hello.


Anonymous said...

I really liked this post. :)

...or be a Crushed...
LOL at Moggs!

Crushed said...

Moggs- I think it's important not to lose sight of the reality. We so often look at life from our perspective. Which is valid, in a sense, except we lose sight of our position within it.

My argument is that we have to see life not just in Clade terms, which, when applicable, I'm all in favour of. As I think it's clear, I have no qualms about describing us as simply another species of Ape.

But we need to still acknowledge the grades, where grades exist.

And we are on the third grade of life. A composite of composites.

And my own belief is that why mankind marks such a radical departure from the rest of life- which will stay on the third grade- is that what we are doing is exactly the same as when the first Eukaryotes formed multicellular beings.

Human history IS part of the evolutionary processes. I believe we are evolving a collective intelligence- and we're using the rudimentary foundations of it's neural network right now.

Vicarious Rising- :)

I live, yes.

My old home has been quarantined :(

There are people wondering around there still, it seems, but we've regrouped in exile...

The googlebots think I'm a spambot, apparently.

Sweet Cheeks- I actually enjoy writing posts like this. Not many people like reading them, mind, but they're the ones I enjoy writing.

I actually find it a far more elegant and edifying view of life than the idea that God stuck as here as we are.

Isn't it wonderful to look back and see how far we've come? from humble beginings?

We live in a very meritocratic, democratic universe. The American dream universe.

Even a Bacterium can, if it strives hard enough, conquer space.