Humans have made a huge number of machines from Space Station, Fighter Jets, Aeroplane, Cars, computers, mobile phones, medical instruments like MRI, scanners, ultrasounds, stents and countless more. The technological innovations have grown and there is an amazing story that can be traced back from hunter gatherers to current day metropolises of today.
But the most intricate and beautiful machines are not the ones that are created by us. These are ones that are created by nature. At the current stage of evolution “Humans” have reached the so called top of the food chain over millions of years. But its not just the human body that is quite astonishing but the whole flora and fauna that has evolved over the years which is equally amazing. Humans don’t have the ability to use sonar like the bats do or even the fishes in Amazon that can see in the dark by generating electricity that we can’t do. By an estimate published in the journal Nature there are estimated over 8 million species of which 80% is yet to be discovered. With the current rate of discovery it may take hundreds of year to complete the job of recording all the species.
At the heart of all of this and how nature has been able to achieve such a feat is one of theories proposed by Charles Darwin Theory of Evolution. The idea was simple yet profound. The existence of primordial soup before there was life on earth is thought to be the starting point of all life on earth. With conducive atmosphere on earth simple organic compounds were formed that by further transformation more complex organic polymers that finally resulted in life. Once these complex organic structure started mixing into one another creating new forms of organisms. This mixing resulted in number of forms and the ones that had specific advantages were able to grow more in numbers and expand out. Here is one of the important characteristics of Darwin’s called survival of fittest comes into picture. In a competitive environment there is always chance of things that have certain advantages to grow more. In terms of Game Theory when there are various outcomes possible an equilibrium is reached that may not be dominant strategy of any one of the player but one which is stable also known as ESS (Evolutionary Stable Strategy)
The underlying traits that give advantage to particular species is derived from programs written in “Genes”. These genes play a very important role in the evolutionary story and they are the building block of the whole biological system just like the atom for matter or bit for the digital information. Instead of tracing lineage to son of god, Darwin’s theory suggested man only had beastly origins.
There is one story of moths in Manchester, England that was so close to prove the Darwin’s theory but what this transpired into is an alternate path. The typical form of the peppered moth has light-coloured wings speckled with small dark spots, camouflage well-suited to hiding from predatory birds on the bark of birch trees common to their habitat. But following the industrial revolution in 19th century both Britain and North America, the air became polluted with dark soot, which covered many surfaces, including tree. It was then that a dark form of the peppered moth saw a population boom, probably because predatory birds couldn’t see it clearly against sooty surfaces and ate the light-coloured form instead. When regulations reduced air pollution in the 1970s, dark-moth populations began to fall and the lighter form resurged. Such obvious change in population in relatively short period of time made these moths textbook example of natural selection. But this example when studied in last couple of decades have shown the change was not gradual as claimed by theory of evolution but more like switch controlled by a single gene which resulted in black moth.
The whole idea of genes transferred from one generation to next through the process of reproduction. The crossing over of genes between the parents leading to whole new set and process repeats. The relatively new science of horizontal transfer of genes means that gene transfer happens not just by reproduction but acquire sideways virally from other organisms even other species. It is claimed that 8% of human genes are acquired this way. One example that we are seeing these days bacteria gaining immunity from antibiotics. Its happening at a alarming rate and the possibility of sideways transfer of genes that confer sort of resistance against multiple kinds of antibiotics. These transfer can be sideways in an instant from one species of bacteria to other.
This whole science is quite interesting and with so much diversity available it will keep challenging generations. The field of genetic engineering should not be practiced without complete understanding of the science as we never know what comes out of it and how it will change the story of earth as well as us.
A quote from the book The Gene which again taken from Philip Larkin “This be the Verse”
“They fuck you up, your mom and dad.
They may not mean to but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had.
And add some extra just for you.”
I believe now we can add the blame to some bacteria, viruses and other organisms as well