[Al-Quran 50:6-8] Have they not looked at the heaven above them - how We structured it and adorned it and how it has no rifts? And the earth - We spread it out and cast therein firmly set mountains and made grow therein [something] of every beautiful kind, Giving insight and a reminder for every servant who turns [to Allah].

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Alternate Biochemistry


Abstract
In this Concept, the plausibility of alternate biochemistry is explored on the basis of known exotic creatures. The Quran 56:60-62 speaks of resurrection in an unknown form of creation, while drawing attention to the fact that we already know the first form of creation. 

Scientists continue to be amazed and baffled by the life forms that are being discovered in the most extreme and hostile of environments — it seems that the new challenge is to be able to not find life somewhere. Life seems to exist in all possible conditions. As the saying goes: life finds a way!  


Full Text

نَحْنُ قَدَّرْنَا بَيْنَكُمُ الْمَوْتَ وَمَا نَحْنُ بِمَسْبُوقِينَ
عَلَىٰ أَن نُّبَدِّلَ أَمْثَالَكُمْ وَنُنشِئَكُمْ فِي مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
وَلَقَدْ عَلِمْتُمُ النَّشْأَةَ الْأُولَىٰ فَلَوْلَا تَذَكَّرُونَ


[Al-Qur’an 56:60-62, translator: Sahih International] We have decreed death among you, and We are not to be outdone In that We will change your likenesses and produce you in that [form] which you do not know. And you have already known the first creation, so will you not remember? 


The following verse also invites us to look closely at the existing creation so that we can understand that resurrection is easily possible and plausible: 
[Al-Qur’an Chapter 29:20, Translator: Shakir] Say: Travel in the earth and see how He makes the first creation, then Allah creates the latter creation; surely Allah has power over all things.

Chapter 56 of the Quran informs us of the Inevitable Event: resurrection and segregation of humans into three groups, and how each group will be eternally recompensed for their performance in the former temporal life on Earth. Verses 60-62 go on to state that it will be an alternate, unknown form of creation, drawing our attention to the forms of creation we already know on Earth. A few verses later, an oath is taken of the ‘setting’ of the stars [end stage of stellar evolution?] with the statement that, if we understood, we would realise it is a great oath! 


Silicone-based life 
[Al-Qur’an 56:75-76, translator: Sahih International] Then I swear by the setting of the stars, And indeed, it is an oath - if you could know - [most] great. 

Theory of Stellar Evolution informs us that the end stage of a star’s life is when silicon is burnt into iron. Beyond this, according to the theory, no further burning is possible. Life on Earth is basically carbon-based. Silicon, directly below carbon in the periodic table, is the proposed candidate to replace carbon in most fantasies about alien life. Though, so far, alternate types of biochemistry appear unstable and thus seem unrealistic, yet they are plausible. 

‘In 1891, the German astrophysicist Julius Scheiner became perhaps the first person to speculate on the suitability of silicon as a basis for life. This idea was taken up by the British chemist James Emerson Reynolds (1844–1920) who, in 1893, in his opening address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, pointed out that the heat stability of silicon compounds might allow life to exist at very high temperatures. In an 1894 article, drawing on Reynolds's ideas and also those of Robert Ball, H. G. Wells wrote:
One is startled towards fantastic imaginings by such a suggestion: visions of silicon-aluminium organisms – why not silicon-aluminium men at once? – wandering through an atmosphere of gaseous sulphur, let us say, by the shores of a sea of liquid iron some thousand degrees or so above the temperature of a blast furnace. 
Thirty years later, J. B. S. Haldane suggested that life might be found deep inside a planet based on partly molten silicates, the oxidation of iron perhaps providing it with energy.’  


Hypothetical Types of Biochemistry 
Though life on Earth is carbon-based and requires water as a solvent, a number of other elements such as silicon, boron, sulphur, and so on are speculated as alternates. Ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, silicon dioxide, etc are speculated as non-water solvents.  


Exotic Creatures on Planet Earth
Discoveries of creatures which exist, survive and even thrive in conditions which we normally consider hostile for existence, lends further credence to the speculated hypothetical types of biochemistry and the possibility of life existing elsewhere in the cosmos. 


Biogenic Silica 
Biogenic silica, found on Earth in some lifeforms, such as diatoms, implies that under different conditions, alternate forms of biochemistry can exist. 

‘Diatom cells are contained within a unique silica cell wall comprising two separate valves (or shells). The biogenic silica that the cell wall is composed of is synthesised intracellularly by the polymerisation of silicic acid monomers. This material is then extruded to the cell exterior and added to the wall. Diatom cell walls are also called frustules or "tests", and their two valves typically overlap one over the other like the two halves of a petri dish.’ 


Ferroplasma 
‘The members of the family Ferroplasmaceae are distributed worldwide and can be found in a variety of acidic environments with very stable chemical conditions, such as ore deposits, mines, and acid mine drainage systems (natural or man-made), and in areas with geothermal activity.’ 

‘ “This organism is ideally adapted to extremely hostile environments. It likes to live in highly acidic solutions containing toxic heavy metals. It is unable to exist at all under normal conditions… Ferroplasma is unique in the world of living organisms, as it contains iron in high concentrations. Now we aim to discover how its proteins function under such extreme conditions… It actually requires extremely acidic conditions to work.” 

‘ “Extraordinarily, the DNA ligase of Ferroplasma contains iron and does not need either magnesium or potassium. The iron is essential: removal results in loss of activity and, interestingly, its wonderful purple coloration.” However, the colour is less fascinating than the fact that Ferroplasma does not die as a result of the ordinarily toxic high concentration of iron in its cells which would severely damage genetic material in other cells, triggering mutations. 

‘ "The fact that an enzyme contains metal ions that damage DNA for the repair of DNA seems contradictory,”… "Maybe the ancestors of Ferroplasma integrated these substances into their metabolism. And afterwards they never left its environment, even as this became increasingly scarce on earth.” ’ 


Life inside Salt Crystals
‘THRIFTY microbes entombed in a salt crystal have survived for 30,000 years by feeding off the remains of algae that were trapped along with them. This is the most convincing example to date of long-term survival… The crystals contained tiny pockets of liquid, and the team found that they could grow live colonies of archaeans from samples of it. The team dated the liquid at between 22,000 and 34,000 years old… ’


Ancient Frozen Ecosystem 
‘ …the discovery of an ecosystem buried under the ice of one of these glaciers that stretches the definition of unusual well past the breaking point… Nobody would be likely to suspect that there is any life underneath the ice, which is hundreds of meters thick in the area, if it weren't for the striking red ice erupting from the glacier's terminus, giving the formation the name Blood Falls. That red color comes from iron concentrated in the ice, which exists primarily in the Fe(II) state favored when oxygen is absent. Thanks to a release event that occurred in 2004, researchers have projected where that iron originates, and suggested its likely source. They've also figured out what the environment at that source looks like… it appears that energy is obtained when sulfur is cycled through different oxidation states by reacting it with iron, producing the Fe(II) seen in the brine. The oxidized sulfur is then used to react with carbon compounds, powering the metabolism. All of that is pretty low-energy—the authors suggest that the doubling time for a bacterium in this environment would be roughly 300 days—and requires an external source of Fe(III) to power the system. The authors posit that the glacier itself might provide the source by extracting new iron as it scrapes across the underlying rocks.’  


References

Periodic Table

Stellar Evolution

Silicon

Hypothetical Types of Biochemistry 

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