Origins of Life #2

Spending numerous hours over the last couple of days on the literature surrounding ‘Origins of Life’, it has been a very exciting read. I cannot believe I never thought about this question yet – how did biological life evolve from chemical compounds? On the positive side, it means my exercise of flexing the idea muscle is not useless.

When I deeply think about our lives, the level of intelligence achieved by human species is just mind boggling. In fact, not just humans, the complexity of the tiniest simplest living creatures is so huge that we cannot yet fathom how such creatures came into being. How did a bunch of molecules end up being smart enough to develop into even a single cell? Mind you, one cell in today’s human body consists of millions and millions of molecules. Considering even the prehistoric times of 3 to 4 billion years ago when life is estimated to have originated, a set of molecules would have decided to bunch together. Why on God’s Earth would life spark in them? What would make them want to think about reproduction? Why would they not just let themselves be and collide/fuse/break among themselves and play around? Why would they want to develop themselves into something that is preservation-worthy; something that needs food and energy from the environment and then even be able to store information that can be passed down through generations?

It is incredibly fascinating and helps understand the fact that it took millions of years for us to evolve. However, the question about the first spark still remains? Why and how did those non-living molecules evolve to a living cell? Could it actually be a supernatural power (not as the God humans currently believe in, but some microbe from a faraway planet)? Or is it the primordial soup that the literature talks about that is difficult to fathom by the current human brain? Such a primordial soup would have lots of chemical reactions taking place that would lead to more and more complex molecular structures.

There are two ways to break down the problem here: (1) bottom-up approach where we aim to understand how these chemical compounds could have given birth to a cell (possibly the most important cellular component being a cell membrane as that allows the cell to first protect itself from the environment and then allow itself even a chance to evolve). This is the approach I briefly discussed above in even trying to understand the situation.

(2) There is also the second top-down approach, where we study the current cellular structure and then gradually break down its components to understand the absolute necessary pieces required to sustain life. Here, we understand the three key components – one, RNA, two, DNA and three, protein. As I currently understand, RNA can serve the dual purpose of DNA (carrying genetic information) and the protein (enzymes carrying metabolic reactions for energy etc.). Hence, many scientists believe the origins of life to be RNA-only world.

Obviously, I have barely even scratched the surface of this subject. I am sure the answers are not easy to get and fathom as the implications would be far-reaching. If we can create life out of non-living things, I mean – simply put – wouldn’t we become Gods? Clearly, huge moral implications for the human race, but also importantly, the scientific world would simply explode.

Origins of Life # 1

Why are there biological life forms on earth? It is mind boggling that in our observable universe, we have never come across any other biological life form – not even simplest forms like single-celled amoebas.

I mean most humans just accept that fact and let it be for the smart scientists to figure out the reason. Obviously humans have always had that curiosity and formulated varied theories to support this fact. So it is not a new unusual question. However, I want to get more understanding and knowledge of this age-old question and perhaps, gain insights into the origins of religion and other themes that resonate with most of humanity.

Strictly in scientific terms as the world accepts (it would have to be another post that discusses how religion and science are perhaps complementary and not in direct conflict), the question boils down to – how did the world full of chemical compounds lead to complex biological life forms? At Big Bang, there must have been only core elements/compounds as we understand in chemistry. Gradually, these chemical compounds would have collided, and led to creation of more complex compounds and then at some point in the early age of Earth (assuming biological life does not exist outside Earth), the molecules became quite complex and at the right habitable time, the first biological life form was created.

What led to that creation? Was it a plant or an animal? Was it just a single-celled amoeba? In the next few days or weeks, I will aim to dive into the existing scientific literature/blogs/Wikipedia, to help answer these questions.

As humans stretch their potential to become an inter-planetary species, answers to such questions will become ever more relevant in our pursuit. Exciting times ahead!!

Focus!

Do I have too many things on my plate at work as well as outside work? Can there be too many interests?

Just thinking about my current interests outside work – tennis, stock market, personal finance, mba, hiking/camping, cooking, health consciousness. This is excluding the obvious more important people in my life – parents, brother/bhabhi, love interest; as well as my interest in volunteer work like Udayan Care that has taken a backseat for now. Hopefully, becoming a member of UC chapter in US, as well as a board member of Brendan’s NGO might help me become more active in community work.

Just going over this list, all are very important to me not just to stay busy but also for my personal growth. The question is how can I be more productive? Should I roughly allocate certain number of hours to these activities each week / month? Or are there other ways to stop my mind running wild anytime I think of anything? Could increased use of ‘Pomodoro’ technique help in this?

My professional work around healthcare and analytics is what brings the dough back home for me to dabble in other activities. How can I make that more fun and inclusive in my life and not just work? I know my short-term goal in the next couple of years is to explore opportunities in small healthcare startups or ideas that can excite me! How do I achieve that? Network!! Reach out!! Exchange ideas!! Brainstorm!! Discuss ideas!! And then write them down!! Write, write and write… that is one thing I didn’t mention as my interest, but whether it is an interest or not, I better start writing more. Not for the sake of my future self reading these ideas, but helping the present self to unburden and let the mind be creative rather than trying to remember and juggle these ideas and interests.

Get inspired and inspire others! Help others!

#CulturalDiversity

Living in US for last five years and traveling around the world should allow me to describe multiple experiences where I faced and handled cultural diversity. However, I can’t fucking think of one.

Let’s brainstorm.

Diversity could be in many ways – food, language, time differences, style of communication etc.

First experiences
First time I came to US on my internship, what did I feel working here? One of the biggest moments I remember is the sign of respect. Even greeting people however old with first name seemed a very big deal. The other was food. I entered delis ordering cheese burger, only to realize that a cheese burger is not just cheese, but also has beef in it! Ordering a vegetarian burger was not really a concept many delis understood at that time.

Again that is not one remarkable experience that shows “my” approach to cultural diversity and how I handle it well. Plus they are too old and naïve to discuss in an essay.

Volunteer experiences
So far, I have been thinking about the enriching experience at Udayan Care, with volunteers from all over the world creating a melting pot of diverse backgrounds, not just culturally but also education.

Traveling
Dinner with family of a tuk-tuk driver at his home?

Professional experiences
Translating quarterback reference leveraged from American culture into a professional setting.

Working on a project across multiple time zones – US, India and Germany. It was difficult setting up meetings due to time differences.

Where is the ultimate energy source?

Our every day energy is provided through various resources such as coal, water, solar etc. All can be traced to the sun’s energy.

Why and how is sun producing energy?
– The ‘how’ is straightforward: Nuclear fusion of hydrogen atoms to produce Helium. Since there is less energy required to hold Helium proton/neutron together as compared to the energy required to hold them in hydrogen atoms, the energy difference is released as photon energy that reaches earth at some point. So as long as there are sufficient hydrogen atoms in the sun to keep this fusion process going, we should expect to continue to have solar energy as a source.

– The ‘why’ is the hard part for me right now. Fusion takes place only at extremely high temperatures (like at millions of kelvin); and that temperature is reached at sun’s core due to its very strong gravitational force. Whenever gravity comes into picture, I always pause myself as I frankly do not understand gravity much. I know what gravity is but why there is gravity is something I do not understand. We attribute so much of our understanding to gravitational forces, but not really sure how it plays. Are there magnetic forces acting as gravity or is there a field in another dimension that is acting as gravity etc.?

Anyways, without digressing further, the next question is ‘how did those hydrogen atoms come together into the sun’ or basically ‘how did that hydrogen fuel with that huge amounts of energy get stored in the sun’?

The answer is probably ‘big bang’, when all energy exploded out into the universe and a tiny fractions of it got together to form matter as we understand it.

The next obvious question is ‘was all the energy currently in universe present at that point of big bang?’ And how did that big bang contain so much energy?