Death on Earth: Adventures in Evolution and Mortality

Death on Earth: Adventures in Evolution and Mortality

Language: English

Pages: 288

ISBN: 1472915070

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


As you read these words, Planet Earth teems with trillions of life-forms, each going about their own business: eating, reproducing, thriving . . . Yet, the life of almost every single organism draws nearer to certain death. On the other hand, "suicide" inside the mitochondria that live within us results in the death of millions of cells each second for our own good! Why is death such a universal companion to life on Earth? Why haven't animals evolved to break free of its shackles?

In this wide-ranging exploration of death, Jules Howard attempts to shed evolutionary light on one of our biggest and most unshakable taboos. He visits a salon that's trying to abolish our queasiness over talking about death. He also looks to the nematode, one of the most basic of life-forms, for clues about why near-starvation actually can prolong life. Encountering some of the world's oldest animals, and meeting the scientists attempting to unravel their mysteries, Howard also comes face-to-face with evolution's outliers--the animals that may one day avoid death altogether.

Written in an engaging style, Death on Earth's journey ends with the inevitable question: Can we ever become immortal? And if we could, would we really want to?

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a novelty winter wonderland. I pulled and poked at the silk again. The threads had become so intermeshed that they had formed a solid latex-like sheet made up of hundreds of thousands of individual drag lines left by the solo explorations of thousands of individual caterpillars. So many journeys had been made by so many caterpillars they’d created this sheet, a mesh – now it was a kind of fabric; a solid sheet so condensed that it felt and looked a little like white rubber. This backstreet in the

Newton: it was, famously, his Second Law of Thermodynamics. It explains everything we see out there. Except for in jellyfish. Or hamsters, for that matter. Or worms. Or walruses. Or wallflowers. Or winkles or white-tailed sea-eagles or, well, you get the idea. For in life, something strange happens. Cells don’t leak and slop into one another after 10 minutes or 10 hours. Bodies don’t just erode and fall apart and become functionless everywhere one looks. They are complex. And they remain so

trade. But a trade in something else was to bloom. A trade much larger and more profitable, which went on to feed the world for a while. Buckland, still intrigued about the bezoars, introduced his friend, the noted chemist Lyon Playfair, to the wonder of bezoars, or coprolites as they had been renamed. Together they collected samples, which Playfair pulverised in his lab. As Buckland had predicted, Playfair found the bezoars incredibly rich in phosphates of lime, a key ingredient required to

a plastic tub on the desk in front of him. Inside the tub is a tube; a single corridor which splits into two, forming a Y-shape that looks a little like female reproductive anatomy. Stace and Adam explain what is going on. The experiment Stace is undertaking is simple: each worker ant is plonked at the bottom section of the Y and can move toward the left tunnel of the Y (which is being pumped with smells of dead ants and fungal waste) or the right-hand tunnel of the Y (in which there is nothing

lives now. The sweat washes the yoghurt off my face and onto my collar. I start wondering whether the barista accidently gave me caffeinated coffee just now. It must have been caffeinated, I think. It must have been. I hadn’t looked at whether he’d ticked the little box on the cup that says ‘DECAF’ (maybe he didn’t tick the little box on the cup that says ‘DECAF’?). I spin a tiny bit. I look for another place to sit down and spot another empty stage. A big banner hangs over it: ‘THE GRACE KELLY

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