A nocturnal adventure

3.00 in the morning, diligent me woke up and was ready for the day. My concerned mother served me a cup of hot tea and brooded over my early rise for work. As I waited for my colleagues near a service shipyard I saw iron pieces lying everywhere with one small, half painted ship parked by the sea. All of us with materials for marine sample collection boarded a boat that accommodated seven to eight of us comfortably. Early hours of the day I enjoyed the calmness of the sea. A sky watcher would see the sparkling stars in the dark blue sky. As a biologist I watched the turtles and crabs moving towards the water from the shore. It was a common sight in high tide.

As our boat cut the wave, a thought on flora and fauna in the estuary crossed my mind. I imagined them swimming at the speed of our boat. I saw mate signalling fluorescent green lit fireflies at the other end of the estuary opening out to a mangrove. Twinkling of stars, radiant fireflies and the rhythm of waves was an exhilarating experience.

Driven by tasks at specific locations mapped through GPS we took samples for laboratory analysis. We collected a water sample in a 500 ml beaker, which also brought with it a 1 cm long transparent crab. When I peeped into the beaker I saw some sparkling stars almost like an underwater sky. I rushed to the edge of the boat curiously to see similar reflections in the water. The magnified view of stars sparkling and moving along with the waves was impeccable.

Orange tinge of the rising sun covered the sea. Fireflies disappeared, birds chirped and reminded us of our jobs. Taking cues from nature, we collected many samples of water and sediment. High tide was turning to low; sun was travelling from east to west. Each hour a factor of the environment was changing, so were the parameters of the biological samples.

If I were to compare the human population density on planet earth as approximately 105 people/square mile and that of bacteria as approximately 1.598 x 1013 cells/square mile; I can estimate that population of bacteria is 152 billion (152 x 109) times that of the humans. According to research studies, approximately 1% of the micro organisms have been identified and named, 99% of them are yet to be identified and named. All human beings are identified by names and characters. Wonder if we could do the same with the 99% of the unnamed micro organisms.

Single cell bacteria are designed to adapt to the environment like temperature, pH, salinity, turbidity etc. Same single cell bacteria can bear high temperature in the afternoons and cold temperature during the nights. However, the change in weather conditions was not bearable by us even though we are multi-cellular organisms evolved into Homo sapiens. I wonder if we have fully evolved and are as adaptable to habitats as these bacteria. They adapt, survive and  make their lives simpler, whereas we with all our resources are muddled with life’s complexity. I couldn’t help but ponder, is this what evolution has done to us?

– Kanchana Hanchinal

Associate Specialist

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7 thoughts on “A nocturnal adventure

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  1. Evolution is a fascinating subject – for sure.

    But as far as human evolution is concerned, we can probably look at it in a different way.
    Most organisms developed ‘defences’ against ‘hostile environment’ by biological adaptations. Evolutionary processes that streched millions of years brought in changes in genetic structures that enabled the organism to adapt better…and better..

    The story of human evolution very much followed the same process for quite sometime …as ‘biped’ homo sapiens with opposing thumbs etc..etc.. ‘evolved’ from earlier forms.

    But subsequently, evolution took a new turn. This species started ‘hastening’ the process of evolution by developing ‘external’ devices (say organs) that helped it adapt to situations. An example is ‘clothing’. You can look at this as an ‘evolutionary adaptation that the species developed for cold climates. The information about making and wearing clothes may not be ‘encoded’ in the ‘double helix’ – but the information is passed on to future generations by different means nevertheless – akin to any biological evolution.

    Looking at it this way, it appears that this species developed methiods to hasten the ‘evolutionary process’ by ‘inorganic’ means. This is a fantastic ‘revolution’ in ths story of ‘evolution’.

    Taking this further, one can argue that all the ‘physical devices’ invented by humans are just a part of the same evolutionary process. Your weapons, agricultural practices, paper, wheel, iPOD and this computer are all ‘inorganic organs’ (for want of better term) developed by homo sapiens in an ‘accelerated evolutionary process’.

    Where this ‘accelerated’ evolution will lead us to ? And will this make us more successful when viewed from an evolutionary timescale…are different questions…of course !!

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  2. A very nice visual inducing write-up Kanchan. I could imagine the serenity of the sea and the beauty of sunrise reading the first few paragraphs.

    As to evolution, I would think it is not a fair comparison between adaptations of humans and bacteria to extremities in weather conditions. There are certainly lot more things that humans can do that bacteria cannot. It is however a humbling thought that a single celled organism is better adapted to nature in certain ways than us.

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    1. Thanks Soumya. Yes i agree that humans can do more things. The observation was a thought which strike me when i was doing marine projects.

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  3. Thanks Prashant, this is a great encouragement to me.

    Yes evolution is happening continuously and existing patterns of biodiversity have been shaped by adaptation.

    Regards
    Kanchana

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  4. Hello Kanchana,

    Excellent writeup. I should point out that the writer definitely has a flare for storytelling. Keep it up. Wish you good luck with future writing.

    Regarding evolution, it is an ongoing process I believe. We should not assess evolution as a static enterprise. Evolution is happening all the time. We cannot live in high pH conditions and bacterias cannot build rockets. Evolution in its own way has produced unique beings.

    Best wishes

    Prashanth

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