A Mysterious Force

Time for a pondering and thinking and speculating break. Since the appearance of gender seems so critical to that which followed, out of curiosity, suppose those critical first six steps are viewed backwards. To begin, though, remember the following.

Science has pretty much agreed on this: each little step depends on and draws from that which existed before. Close your eyes and try to picture these critical steps – from Big Bang to the appearance of separate genders.

Right after Big Bang, a mysterious force caused matter to seek other matter, thereby stopping the momentum to fly away in straight lines forever. Science calls it gravitational attraction.

Attraction. Keep that word in mind as the next step appears.

Life begins. Little, bitty single cells. Reproduce by making a copy of self and splitting into two. But a Nobel Prize was awarded to Max Delbruck in 1969 about the “…replication mechanisms in viruses.” An earlier Scientific American article by him has this summary: “Some fascinating experiments demonstrated that the tiny organisms which prey on bacteria employ a primitive kind of sexual reproduction.”

In other words, the makings of gender were there. About a billion years later they would separate but they were there — right from the beginning!

Look back. “Each step depends on and draws from that which existed before.” The makings of gender must have been in the noxious water from which life first appeared. Those “makings” would be different from the inorganic material around them; is that an attraction the put together the first DNA leading to first life?

Just pondering here.

In one of these new-fangled complex cells, over perhaps a half billion years, the material that made one gender separated from the material that made the other gender.

Two things to remember: The material from which the two genders was formed came from events that happened earlier. Some sort of force or pressure caused the material to separate from one another. Whatever was necessary to cause genders to separate after a long time in a single cell must have been drawn from those first complex cells.

Those first complex cells were built from material in single-celled organisms preceding them. In the other direction, gender differentiation was drawn from material in those first complex cells. Is that force or pressure causing gender separation part of this package? Did, by any chance, that unknown force have any connection to the merging of the two single-celled organism?

Life begins. Look back. The material appeared in first life had to contain what those two single-celled organisms needed to make that first complex cell. Look forward: First life had to separate from inorganic matter. That DNA assembled in water had to have material from which gender was assembled.

Once again there is a separation. Was that mysterious force separating genders involved in sorting the material needed for first life from inorganic matter?

Right after the Big Bang, a mysterious force caused matter to seek other matter, thereby stopping the momentum to fly away in straight lines forever. Science calls it gravitational attraction.

Think about it. “Attraction” is the key connecting word here, start to finish – at every step. Is that mysterious force already at work?

For this mysterious force to have that kind of impact, cells had to somehow communicate with one another. How could this mysterious force somehow have a way to communicate to guide cells to these dramatic changes?

Cells can communicate. Those very, very first DNA could not have done its job without some kind of electrical burst. Imagining a communication system is hard to accept – but then it is hard to imagine them having a complex DNA as well. The DNA guided each step; communication had to be there.

 

A snowball is flying at your face; you duck, instinctively, without thought. A little hummingbird can sing and fly, do a complex dance to attract a mate, build a nest, find food, and a lot more. Information about how and when to move the wings is signaled from the little bird’s brain. Communication. For DNA to work, a communication system had to exist. Is that how the material defining male and female slowly guided cells together in that chemical soup? Could there be a connection between matter seeking other matter and the elements of that soup sorting organic from inorganic through some kind of communication?

The key here: cells can signal one another; signals are sent from one part to the other. The idea of a mysterious force is not far-fetched.

Taking this approach, life’s beginning is just one stop in a continuous process. Life’s emergence is not a random event but just one stop in the transition from Big Bang to gender. Out of nothing, randomly, comes gender? No. Contemplation time seems to suggest a series of connected events, six events each unique in their own way. After all, each step depended on that which had already happened.

Science has the development of emotions and the brain starting much later than this. But that mysterious attraction certainly sounds like a prelude to emotions. If so, it is not only an emotion but the key emotion. And the fact that cells could communicate certainly sounds like the precursor of a brain which science declares begins much later.

The Mystery of Gender

Two types of single-celled bacteria merge to make a more complex cell.

After all, those bacteria were extremely efficient in passing along their genes to future generations. In their billion years or so of the Reign of the Prokaryotes, they had spread everywhere the oceans took them and even up onto some land masses. If the name of the game is successful reproduction, it sure looks like the prokaryotes had the upper hand. Nothing was broken; why fix it?

In the dog-eat-dog evolution that most people connect with Darwin’s theory, why would two successful and independent bacteria species give up their independence by cooperating to produce a new cell? Why not just keep reproducing their own stuff?

The cause is not explained by Darwin’s mutation followed by natural selection. Teamwork is the agreed-upon cause. Evidence shows that the new eukaryotic cell is clearly related to the two single-celled organisms. Maybe one species used the other as meal, but whatever caused it, symbiosis is the term used for a merger like this – an event that happens when one organism needed something the other organism had. At this time, the environment may be been nearing a Snowball Earth time. Maybe the two organisms needed this merger to stay alive.

What caused the two genders to separate within one of those more complex cells?

Science can tell you everything you want to know about inheritance of traits. But if there exists a scientific answer to the question, “How come the material making up the two genders separated in that cell?”, this researcher’s efforts failed to find it. However, one can find a lengthy list of why this SHOULD NOT have happened. Reasons:

  • Sexual reproduction makes the process less efficient. The result: it burns up more energy than just splitting into two new cells.
  • Look at the complication this adds to reproduction. Bacteria just split cell – and that’s it! The more complicated way: that egg floating around needs a mate.
  • That mates uses energy to get there. That energy might be better spent just splitting like the prokaryotes did.
  • Connecting with a mate brings in the idea of competition. Over time, females invest a lot of energy into being the most attractive so a male is drawn to them.
  • Two genders exist but only one reproduces. The other half does not reproduce.

My statistical side is screaming at me, “No. Genders were not necessary. The deck was somehow stacked to help guide that sorting!” What caused the two genders to become separate from one another?

“The deck was stacked.” How?  Science has pretty much agreed on this: each little step depends on and draws from that which existed before. Keep that mind through this review of the steps to here.

 

The Beginning of Gender

During the Reign of the Prokaryotes, the continental plates of today, estimated to be about 20 miles thick, were pretty much in place. The location and configuration of those plates can make a huge impact on environment. Earth today has these distinctly separated land masses: the Americas, with one fairly narrow connection from North to South; Africa and Eurasia, again with reasonably narrow connection from Eurasia to Africa. Australia and the South Pole are separate.

Over time, more complex life forms continued to develop, BUT they had to live through some truly dramatic changes on earth. Here are just a few examples.

The land masses move – very slowly, but they move. When one drifts into another one, serious damage can be done. Some land is pushed down; some land is pushed up, making mountains. This is how all of today’s mountains were formed.

At times, all the land masses are connected. One big continent. A supercontinent! One big ocean. One big continent. When a supercontinent is formed, different currents disappeared, which also caused prevailing winds to change. When ocean currents change, rapid cooling or rapid warm up can be triggered.

If all land is massed at one location, the land near the center is no longer impacted by ocean temperature. The ocean is too far away. So the center of this huge land mass can display huge variations in temperature and rainfall.

When a supercontinent begins to break up, the oceans can once again flow between them. New ocean currents form. Sometimes they make the land around them warmer; sometimes colder. Life trying to survive must change enough to survive.

At times, huge land masses would drift over the South Pole. Huge glaciers build up. Impact: those glacier use up a lot of water from oceans. Water levels fall. Continent gets colder. Glaciers form that are 2/3 of a mile thick. When most of the planet freezes, science calls it a Snowball Earth. These have happened more than once. When this happens, habitats disappear; life forms at that time struggle to survive.

Back to first life, the little bacteria. When they had appeared, no competition existed – they could reproduce as fast as they wanted to. And they did!

How? To start with, those first prokaryote cells had a membrane with its DNA (genetic structure) floating around in the center. One cell can reproduce without any outside help. A cell made a copy of its genetic structure, splits in two, and eureka, two cells for the price of one, each with the original DNA. Acting alone, they can reproduce quickly — some as fast as every fifteen minutes! Compare that to your mother’s waiting time of nine months. No wonder they spread from their birthplace all around the world.

Those bacteria, remember, ruled the earth for over a billion years, and during that time mutations led to a whole variety of bacteria species. Instead of swimming around independently, they merged together. Green algae, still all over the earth, is just one of those clusters of bacteria.

So how and why did new organisms appear? Near the end of the Reign of the Prokaryotes, two of those clusters – each cluster representing a different species – joined together. Why? Well, it might have been due to a suddenly tough environment – maybe a Snowball Earth.  Not sure. Did one want to eat the other for dinner? Not sure. Scientists are sure, though, that one cluster sort of dug itself into the other.

So, one species was living inside the other. Remember the definition of life: The need to have food, use those nutrients for energy and growth, and then get rid of unused waste? As independent prokaryotes, they reproduced quickly, dumping their waste. Sounds pretty unpleasant, doesn’t it? Living in each other’s waste?

In any event, it turns out the invader had something the host needed AND the host had something the invader needed. Thus, the merger was, in a sense, a sign of cooperation. Little by little, they became more dependent. Soon, the invader species was there for good. Two species became one. Sounds romantic, eh?

“For good” meant neither one of the original two species was an independent organism, with their own special DNA, like they had been before. Each had sacrificed its independence to create a brand new organism – an organism with its own DNA. And the new organism was much, much more complex than any of the bacteria species. The new organism’s name: eukaryote, pronounced u-car’-e-oat, with emphasis on the car.

Remember when the prokaryotes avoided extinction? That process that saved them was Darwin’s random mutation and natural selection model. However, changing two different species of bacteria into to a new complex membrane with its own DNA is really quite different. Mutation then natural selection does not work here. Science needs another answer.

Here is how science sees this step happening. Those first bacteria cells had their DNA floating around in the membrane. Think of DNA as chief record-keeper. All those DNA records are in a sort of file; each file controls a behavior. Those various files are called chromosomes. Each chromosome was a set of directions for swimming or providing energy or getting rid of waste and so forth.

Careful studies can see pretty solid evidence that the parts of the new, more complex eukaryote came from the structure of the two bacteria species from which they formed. Scientists can see remnants of some of those “files” (chromosomes) that were in the bacteria which are now in the eukaryote.

This important pattern continues: that which is new builds out of that which already exists.

None of those files can function without available energy to do the task. For the more complex cell, nutrients taken in merge with oxygen to provide that energy. This is true of all animals. A very similar cell merger yielded a eukaryote that used carbon dioxide and sunlight to make energy in a different manner. That merger is called plants. So the distinction between plants and animals followed parallel paths, not necessarily at the same place or time. The difference between plants and animals is in how they make energy.

A key file inside the membrane controlled reproduction. The first step in the reproduction of eukaryotes mimicked that of bacteria.

  • First the cell made an exact copy of itself.
  • Then that cell would split, making two cells exactly alike.

Again: eukaryotes building on what the prokaryotes had already done. But after that, the process becomes much more complex. Science believes these are the steps:

  • The DNA “doubled up” as it is today – with two strands (the earlier bacteria had but one strand.) Perhaps the two built off the single-strand DNA from each bacteria.
  • Then, by going through a complicated series of steps confirmed by science, two new cells resulted.
  • The two cells were called “gametes.” The brand new gamete cell is a sex cell.
  • The result of a complicated series of steps was that one gamete represented one gender and the second gamete represented the other gender.
  • Only the sex cell part of the doubled-up strands was used for the new DNA used in reproduction.
  • Science named the smaller, quicker gamete “male” and the bigger, slower-moving gamete female.

Exactly when this happened – perhaps a billion years after the first single-celled eukaryotes – two genders had appear. The author’s first thought was the lyrics of a song: “Then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars.”

Wow! Two billion years of life had passed without any mention of male and female. Two species of bacteria got together and, after some time, merged into a brand new, more complicated cell. After a while, that more complicated cell organizes such that sex cells appear that define gender for the first time. Getting to this point took perhaps a billion years after the first eukaryote cell – a billion years for that incredibly important gender identification step to appear!

Anyway, the story has a few more steps. On Friday, I’ll explain.

Next post: Gametes and more

Previous post: Enter Oxygen