Life's Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable (Science Essentials)

Life's Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable (Science Essentials)

Language: English

Pages: 224

ISBN: 0691173354

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

For almost four billion years, microbes had the primordial oceans all to themselves. The stewards of Earth, these organisms transformed the chemistry of our planet to make it habitable for plants, animals, and us. Life's Engines takes readers deep into the microscopic world to explore how these marvelous creatures made life on Earth possible--and how human life today would cease to exist without them.

Paul Falkowski looks "under the hood" of microbes to find the engines of life, the actual working parts that do the biochemical heavy lifting for every living organism on Earth. With insight and humor, he explains how these miniature engines are built--and how they have been appropriated by and assembled like Lego sets within every creature that walks, swims, or flies. Falkowski shows how evolution works to maintain this core machinery of life, and how we and other animals are veritable conglomerations of microbes.

A vibrantly entertaining book about the microbes that support our very existence, Life's Engines will inspire wonder about these elegantly complex nanomachines that have driven life since its origin. It also issues a timely warning about the dangers of tinkering with that machinery to make it more "efficient" at meeting the ever-growing demands of humans in the coming century.

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then reheated the threads to form small glass spheres. M eet the M icrobes    29 Figure 5. An illustration of the type of microscope invented and used by Anton van Leeuwenhoek. The single spherical lens was placed in a small hole between two plates. The sample was held close to the lens with a small screw, and the observer placed his eye close to the lens and held the microscope up the light. Despite its simplicity, this type of microscope could magnify up to 400  times, depending on the

playing out before my eyes but was so foreign to my personal experiences. I could observe microscopic organisms ingesting smaller particles. I could see single-­celled organisms dividing. I could see organisms swimming and others moving by “walking” on the slides. I didn’t understand how these organisms moved, how they ate, or how they lived. By reading books borrowed from the local public library on 125th Street, I started to learn about the microbial world. The library also had an inspiring

were fine jewelry. They could measure changes in mass of 1 part in 400,000. Such precision was exceptional for the time, and Lavoisier used it to great advantage. By carefully weighing the mercuric oxide before and after heating, he could determine how much of the material was lost in the process. He then went on to do the reverse: he heated mercury metal in the presence of air, generating mercuric oxide, which weighed more than the original metal, and showed that the air in the chamber lost some

Office of Planetary Protection. NASA’s planetary protection officer (PPO) is charged with making sure that we minimize microbial contamination of our landers on Mars and other planets, moons, and former planets and their brethren. The PPO is also charged with making sure that if we bring samples back from those celestial bodies, they don’t kill us or alter our planet forever. It’s an interesting job, and I’m sure it makes for great opening lines at cocktail parties, but the job is serious, and

was that inside the carbonate globules there were very small, wormlike structures that resemble fossil microbes. That was certainly surprising, but the structures are so small that it is difficult to understand how they actually could represent fossils of microbes. No known microbe on Earth is as small as the structures in the meteorite, and simple calculations suggest that if such cells actually existed, their genome would have been incredibly streamlined. However, a third line of evidence was

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