Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bacteria = Elephant?


Attempts to generalize rules to all life forms have generally failed. It was once thought that all life needed light, but deep sea hydrothermal vent life proved it didn't. It has long been thought that life needs water but natural oil/gas microbes suggest it might not. The theory that all animals had a fixed number of heartbeats was elegant but neglected the bat and hummingbird, among others.

Now comes the promising theory that all life, pound for pound, uses similar amounts of energy. The theory relies on the commonality of biochemical processes. Co-author of the study ecologist Peter Reich says "It's been a very exciting theory that people tend to love or hate.... It sounds like a general theory of relativity for biology.... It's a major advance because they are proposing something novel to unify us all and how we understand the world." This could very well be a unifying theory for life, it reflects fundamental processes in ways other theories have not. Still, there's good reason for skepticism.

(image credit: elephant, wired.com; bacteria, sciencemusings.com)