Cell biology Intelligent Design Origin Of Life

Sea creature challenges our conception of life

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The siphonosphore the researchers identified is actually millions of interconnected clones:

The gigantic, silly-string-like sea creature is about 49 feet in diameter, resulting in a total length of the outer ring of 154 feet. But “the entire creature is much, much longer,” Logan Mock-Bunting, a spokesperson for the Schmidt Ocean Institute, told Newsweek. “The crew is estimating it to be more than 120 meters in total length — possibly over 390 feet long.”

The creature was classified as a siphonophore, a deep-sea predator that is actually a “colonial organism” made up of millions of much smaller organisms. Some of these smaller organisms even have stinging cells that can kill the siphonophore’s prey.

Victor Tangermann, “Deep Sea Giant” at Futurism

Though the siphonophore attracts descriptions such as The Borg meets Clone Wars, there’s no need to waste money on science fiction:

Siphonophores like this one are deep-sea predators that lie in wait for unfortunate animals to come into contact with the stinging cells found on some of the specialized clones…

“Once a clone captures its prey—a fish or crustacean—it will reel it to the colony & other clones that work as mouths will surround it. Often many swallowing it at once. Once they prey is digested, they’ll send the nutrients through a long digestive tract that travels down the whole colony, so that every other clone can use the nutrients. In this way, this siphonophore may remain still and feed for a long time, and I mean LONG,” she said.

Aristos Georgiou, “Otherworldly, String-Like Organism Spotted in Deep Sea Is Made Up of ‘Millions of Interconnected Clones’” at Newsweek

Apolemia (the siphonosphore the researchers spotted) could be decades to centuries old, we are told, because things change slowly in the deep, only a few degrees above zero.

Is it one life form or many? Does it age or does it just die when something happens? What about apparent communal information processing in some colony organisms like the Paris Blob? The questions that seemed easy for an ant colony aren’t quite that way here.

This question has also come up with the Blob at the Paris Zoo:

Polycephalum’s type of organism is thought to have existed for roughly a billion years though it has only been studied intensively in recent decades. It is technically called a “protist” (a catch-all category for life forms that are hard to classify). It makes decisions with no apparent source of intelligence:

“Many of the processes we might consider fundamental features of the brain, such as sensory integration, decision-making and now, learning, have all been displayed in these non-neural organisms. – Romain P. Boisseau, David Vogel and Audrey Dussutour, “Habituation in non-neural organisms: evidence from slime moulds” at Proceedings of the Royal Society B

– Is a brain really needed for thinking?, Mind Matters News

But then consider the slime mold of amoebas, acting as a colony that travels in search of bread crumbs:

Is an amoeba smarter than your computer? Hype aside, the microbe’s math skills ace the Traveling Salesman problem and may help with cybersecurity: “You might not think that a one-cell life form can easily solve a data problem that has vexed programmers for decades. To reach bread crumbs. But several studies over recent years show precisely that.” Also, “When we hear hype about machines that will soon out-think people, we might put it in perspective by recalling that we still struggle to build a machine that can out-think amoebas looking for crumbs.” – Mind Matters News

We always seem to be discovering more of these oddities which make many traditional definitions of life irrelevant.

5 Replies to “Sea creature challenges our conception of life

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Well, it’s not all that unusual among plants. A typical bed of grass or clover is also interconnected by stolons that transfer nutrition and signals. If you ‘unrolled’ those stolons, they’d be thousands of meters long.

  2. 2
    Bob O'H says:

    I don’t see how these make the definition of live irrelevant, or even challenge it. What they do do is challenge the notion of what an individual is. I suspect this probably says more about our chordate-based bias than anything else.

  3. 3
    jawa says:

    This was at least a couple of years ago:

    “The mechanisms of symmetry breaking and embryonic axis formation do not appear to be conserved between mammalian and nonmammalian model organisms“

    Has anybody seen more recent news on this?

    What would be the implications of such a difference?

    If it gets confirmed, does it mean that the evo-devo folks would have to explain that difference?

  4. 4
    jawa says:

    The evo-devo folks have too much on their plate already.

    Definitely won’t enjoy seeing more questions piled up on their desk in-box, while the out-box remains practically empty.

    If things continue this way, soon the evo-devo folks might lose their corner office.

    Not nice. 😉

    PS.

    BTW, for the curious readers, in the case of mammalian models, this was said a couple of years ago:
    ”Reconciliation of the models with recent experimental data therefore requires the recognition of feedback interactions between multiple parameters. Taken together, a consensus picture emerges that cell polarity, adhesion, and cortical contractility interact with each other, forming a regulative system that results in robust symmetry breaking and inside-outside patterning at the 8- to 16-cell stage“

    https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-cellbio-100617-062616

  5. 5
    jawa says:

    “the relatively low information content of a system residing in a symmetrical homogeneous state implies that information originates with the generated cell types at the symmetry breaking event. The onset of this event must be accurately timed, where not only the specification of distinct cell fates is suitably determined, but also the number distribution of each type must be robustly established.”

    information originates ?

    Huh?

    Robustness and timing of cellular differentiation through population-based symmetry breaking
    Angel Stanoev, Christian Schröter, Aneta Koseska
    doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/578898

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