Saturday, September 21, 2013

The most interesting and the least ambitious living organisms on earth.

For me, the most interesting living organism on earth may give us a glimpse of how life may have evolved on earth. The creature is the ‘Slime mold’ formally called myxomycetes. When the environment is conducive to slime mold, they exist as single celled organisms like amoebas. However, when the conditions turn unfavourable, they crawl to a central gathering place and turn into a slug- much like a horror movie! The slug, the slowly chugs along to a slightly better exposed position and transforms itself yet again. This time it takes the form of a plant. Some of the cells, reconfigure themselves and move on top to the plant to form a bulb, known as the fruiting body. Inside the fruiting body are millions of spores that at the right moment are released into the wind, to spread out and become single-celled organisms, and continue the cycle all over again.

The least ambitious living creatures on earth (as per David Attenborough) are also the hardiest- Lichens. They grow anywhere from old buildings, to windy mountain tops and in the Arctic wasteland where nothing else but rocks exist. In Antarctica, where nothing grows, there exist 400 hundred types of Lichens. For a long time no one knew how lichens managed to grow on rocks, without any nourishment or without producing any seed. Now we know that Lichens are a partnership between fungi and algae. The fungi excretes acids that dissolve the surface of rocks, freeing minerals that the algae convert into food, sufficient for both. There are an astonishing twenty thousand species of lichens on earth, and they thrive in harsh environments. They grow very slowly, and if you spot one the size of a dinner plate they are “likely to be hundreds if not thousands of years old” according to Attenborough. We humans need a point, a goal or a desire to exist, but “life even at it simplest level occurs apparently just for its own sake” Attenborough adds.

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