Life and Environment

          Discourse around the deadly effect of pollution is getting shriller. Pollution has reached theatening levels. There is apprehension that  we may be annihilated by environmental dgradation sooner than later. So it is relevant to have a relook at te relationship of life with  environment.
             The living cell is the unit of life and its contents form the physical basis of life. The cell is a complex organization. It is estimated that  a block of stem 1 mm long, 1 mm wide and 1 mm deep has approximately ten million cells. That provides an idea of the size of an average cell. You need to strain your imagination skill. Now each of these ten million cells has a complex structure and organization. The complex dynamic protoplast, its membrane bounded organelles and their inter- and intra- connectivity and interdependence and rhythmic conversion into gel and sol phases.  ----- Again the nucleoprotein molecules with their unique configurations and orientation together with layer by layer organization are just amazing. Thinking of a living cell, the analogy of Lord Krishna offering a glimpse of macrocosm in microcosm comes to attention.

             Something like a web or network of complex factories is incessantly functional inside the living cell, along with its control center. There is chloroplast which is the seat of photosynthesis. Sunlight is trapped and converted into chemical bond energy; CO2 diffuses in to be reduced to complex carbohydrate molecules in a chain of reactions with several intermediate compounds being formed. Carbohydrates now serve as the raw material for mitochondria which oxidize them by another chain of chemical reactions to reap the energy of the organic molecules.  The intermediate compounds of these processes may be transformed by the addition of an amino group to amino acids in the cytoplasm or they may be diverted to the formation of lipids and other complex molecules.  Inside a ribosome, amino acids get condensed into proteins.

“If you could visit a cell, you wouldn’t like it.  Blown up to a scale at which atoms were about the  size of peas, a cell itself would be a sphere roughly about  half a mile across, and supported by a complex framework of girders called the cytoskeleton. Within it millions upon millions of objects --- some the size of basketballs, others the size of cars --- would whiz about like bullets.  There wouldn’t be a place you could stand without being pummeled and ripped thousands of times every second from every direction. Even for its full time occupants the inside of a cell is a hazardous place. Each strand of DNA helix is, on average, attacked or damaged once every 8.4 seconds --- 10,000 times in a day – by chemicals and other agents that whack into or carelessly slice through it, and each wound must be swiftly stitched up if the cell is not to perish. “ ------ Bill Bryson

We learn from the second law of thermodynamics that the universe together with all its constituents, constantly tends to disorganize.  Disorganization leads to disintegration and annihilation. Only a steady and constant input of energy prohibits degeneration and aids in the maintenance and improvement of living structure. The living organism obtains energy from its environment in the form of food, which is essentially chemically reduced matter. The organism then oxidizes it to harness the energy to protect itself from the baneful influence of entropy.  

That draws attention to the significance of the surroundings and its state of communication with the organisms. The surroundings must not be wanting in the presence of the substances required by the organisms; the organisms are required to have an efficient system or communication with the surroundings for smooth flow of matter and energy between them. In other words, ‘organisms- surroundings’ form the living system-complex. Reduced substances are the source of energy, their uninterrupted supply is essential just as their continual oxidation to yield quanta of energy in usable state.

                  In Biological systems energy storage and transfer is meditated by electrons. Various molecules are capable of accepting energy-charged electrons. They differ among themselves regarding their specificity of the energy level of the electrons carried by them. Such substances can be classified in a gradient. This gradient is called Redox scale.

          It is observed that this complex is an oxidizing one; reduced molecules virtually bathe in oxidizing medium, protected by only a barrier of "energy of activation". Remove this barrier and the Biosphere would be reduced to ashes in no time. The very delicate, and at the same time stable nature of the life can be very well illustrated by the above.  Release of the energy of food into small quanta during the process of respiration serves two fold functions. It ensures maximum utilization of energy made available and it ensures that the temperature of the system does not rise to the extent of destroying the delicate cell.

                  Illustration of dams is very illustrative of the energy-barrier. Dams provide irrigational support to agricultural crops. Water is released from the dams through the controlled operation of sluice-gates, so that water is made available to the field only in such amounts that may be beneficially utilized by them. In case, the barrier becomes dysfunctional. large amount of water would inundate the fields, only a very small fraction may be utilized by the crop; larger fraction would not only be wasted, but at the same time considerable soil-erosion coupled with uprooting and destruction of the standing crop would also result.

                         It need not be stressed that our spiritual and intellectual identities are highly organized entities and are constantly stressed due to the influence of the debilitating influence of entropy. We need to maintain an efficient communication-mechanism with the surroundings-internal as well as external to keep ourselves in high spirits.


More by :  Ganganand Jha

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