Who’s Out There?—What’s Most Likely?3 min read

Life is a continuum of chemical interactions, substantive responses that trigger more chemical interactions until the emergent phenomena of life are no longer sustained, and death of the living being occurs. At death, the whole may seem to be present, but the emergence called life is gone.

Life depends on continuous interrelated chemical reactions. It stops when energy exchanges cannot operate.

It seems reasonable to assume that the beginnings of life on Earth were also a continuum of chemical reactions, exchanging energy in a sustainable way to build on whatever was available in the environment.

The alkaline hydrothermal vents, discussed in previous blogs, are being studied as such an environment.

For life to continue and take advantage of new opportunities, it must out-compete other life. It makes simple sense that the most flexible and stable and reactive materials will make organisms that can win the race for food, safety, and energy. We Earthlings are made of those substances—including the talented element carbon and the ubiquitous solvent water—so its most likely that life anywhere will make use of those substances (if they are available) and will probably win the survival race.

The list of possibilities for finding life elsewhere expands as we continue to learn about the remarkable talents of various chemicals. A recent finding reported in January 2 Angewandte Chemie suggests that carbon—our favorite building block for life—is even more versatile than thought. It usually shares four electrons to bond with other atoms, but hexamethylbenzene has been found to be stable in strong acid when it reinvents itself as a five-sided pyramid. One carbon atom sits on top, bonded to five (instead of four) in a ring below and one above. Leave it to carbon to perform such gymnastics. This finding strengthens the idea of carbon being the most likely element able to come up with structures and flexibility demanded by life’s rigorous demands in challenging environments.

Another hopeful finding involves enzymes. Science Magazine of December 22 reports on evolutionary changes in the enzyme adenylate kinase, a protein found in “nearly all life forms.” This ancient enzyme may have been designed to work well in ancient hot climates, warm hydrothermal vents or hot springs. As Earth cooled, the “genes accumulated mutations” that changed some amino acids and lowered the enzyme’s energy demands.

Instead of expected instability, the adenylate kinase enzyme was found to work fast at “low temperatures while remaining stable at high temperatures.” Such “generalist enzymes” doing their job over a wide range of temperatures bode well for finding life in various environments.

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In the article “Organic Aerosols and the Origin of Life: An Hypothesis” (by D. J. Donaldson, Tervahattu, Tuck and Vaida) aerosols of palmitic, stearic and oleic acids were said to be “energetically capable of asymmetric division.” In a “prebiotic terrestrial environment,” the products of their fission would have been the size of bacteria or viruses. The authors suggest that recent palaeo fossil studies could add to the understanding of possible biochemical interactions coming from the geochemistry involved.

The bottom line: We are still learning biochemistry at every level, and though we appreciate the intricacy of requirements for starting life, they may someday be within our understanding.

Author of The Archives of Varok

    The View Beyond Earth (Book 1.)

    The Webs of Varok (Book 2.)

       Nautilus Silver Award 2013 YA

       ForeWord IBPA finalist 2012 adult SF

    The Alien Effect (Book 3.)

    An Alien’s Quest (Book 4. Released Nov.21, 2016)

Excerpts, Synopses, Reviews, On Writing, Characters and More-

    ArchivesofVarok.com

Reviews of significant books- www.goodreads.com/Cary_Neeper

How the Hen House Turns- www.ladailypost.com

Complexity, Bio, Bibliography and Links- caryneeper.com

Astrobiology- astronaut.com  search:Who’s Out There

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Cary Neeper is an avid student of complexity theory, sustainability, steady-state economics, and the impact of cosmology on issues of science and religion. She grew up in the foothills of Hayward, California, where she helped rack dried fruit on her father’s 40-acre apricot ranch. After studying zoology/chemistry and religion at Pomona College and medical microbiology at the University of Wisconsin, she moved with her husband to northern New Mexico, where they raised their family. The Neepers still live in the Southwest with a friendly menagerie of dogs, fish, chickens, geese, ducks and a turkey called Little Bear. Cary plays string bass with local folk, symphony and jazz groups and tennis with local retired physicists. She paints landscapes in acrylics, including the cover art for her first Penscript title, The Webs of Varok. Cary's first novel and Webs of Varok prequel A Place Beyond Man was originally published in 1975 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, Dell, and Millington, London. Cary re-released A Place Beyond Man as an Author’s Guild Backinprint edition, now available from online booksellers. Its themes of sustainability and interspecies cooperation have now grown into new adventures for its human, elll and varok family as they travel the alternate 21st century Solar System in the five-volume Archives of Varok, coming from Penscript Publishing House in 2012–2014. Cary’s other works include two musical science fiction comedies “U.F.F.D.A.!” and “Petra and the Jay,” as well as newspaper and magazine articles, essays, short stories, and book reviews for The Christian Science Monitor.

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