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Life will always find a way to survive

  1. May 30, 2004 #1
    I am not a biologist, and this is actually not a question... i post rather just to share my astonishment by the power of nature :surprise:
    Today, we have decided to make a short business-trip on a roof of our 9-floor house, to plug in a new sattelite antenna. Everyone knows what does an average house-roof look like - some weird materials, which are assigned to resist water, sunshine, strong winds and so on... neither metallic surfaces are very rare. But nearly the whole area is covered by a thick enough layer of some rubber-like mess (i can't remember the proper word for this at the moment, but this stuff is being installed under high temperature conditions, and then freezes to the black ellastic layer of solid patch). Of course, this layer is rather old, and alternating sun-rain-wind-sun-day-night... have made their job and at some places the pieces of the surface were lifted up, leaving the space beteween the layer and the actual roof, somewhere the it broke down into nearly-rectangular and approximately-hexagonal cells, but the main thing that made me halt for a couple of minutes gazing like a snake on it - was a group of flowers, somewhere even small bushes, that were growing quitely in the most comfortable place on the roof. There was a small beautiful yellow flower, a high "tree" (50+ cm) but without flowers yet...
    i wonder HOW? HOW did they do IT?
    I bet noone planted them!
    For me, the only way of their appearance seems to be a wind that brought and left the seeds on the roof, which were then hosted by... by completely artificial layer of black rubber mess!!! How did they survive?
    I thought that in order to grow, a plant has to exchange some chemicals (or whatever) with the ground... but the only thing those flowers have - is sun for photosynthesis and water-bringing-rain...
    incredible :rolleyes:
  2. jcsd
  3. May 30, 2004 #2


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    There was a bridge in the New York City area that was famous for having a tree growing naturally on it.
  4. May 30, 2004 #3


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    Actually plants get most of their mass from the gas CO2, the rest it needs are some minerals/salts and water :)
  5. May 30, 2004 #4


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    They need nitrate. How could they get this from roofing material? What is rubber exactly? I thought it was just a hydrocarbon polymer.

    What kind of flowers were they? Could they have been nodular plants with nitrogen-fixing bacteria in them?
  6. May 31, 2004 #5
    well, Big English Vocabulary states that this material is "goudron; tar".

    hmmm... eh... :uhh: erm... your second question knocked me out... what's a "nodular" plant?
    you know, unfortunately i had not got my digital cam that moment, so i'll try do describe it in more detail:
    the yellow flower was ~20 cm high, its head had diameter of ~ 2 cm, with nearly 5-7 petals. there was nothing weird in the centre - just single pestil. also no leaves were detected along it's 2-mm-diameter green leg...
    the high plant was like this: a long (50 cm) semi-zigzag stick (d~5mm), with the trails of appearing burgeons, but with no leaves, no flowers etc.
    + one thing: these two are everywhere: in the gardens, in the fields in mountains nearby - they are the ones that are the most wide-spread here.
    well, its not a best description, so in the evening i'll try to filter out the recent photos - maybe one of them has the plants i mean...
  7. May 31, 2004 #6


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    Yeah, tar is a hydrocarbon, so it couldn't have gotten the nitrogen from that. Nodular plant is probably an erroneous term. Look at the roots. Certain plants, legumes in particular, have nodes on their roots that are filled with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which can convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrate, which the plant can then use to build amino acids - hence why legumes (beans, peas, etc.) are so high in protein.
  8. May 31, 2004 #7
    WOW! :rolleyes:
    Very interesting!!!
    Thanks a lot!

    hmm, does that mean that it is really possible to send some of such plants on, say, Mars, and in a couple of decades we'll have another frendly planet? (let's forget for a moment that sunshine is weaker there)
  9. May 31, 2004 #8


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    Specially gene modified plants could be made to do it, I think. Modified beans with huge tough leaves (to intercept enough phtons and survive the cold and low pressure), could manufacture nitrates for other (perhaps underground) life. Of course the don't ruin Mars fanatics would object.
  10. May 31, 2004 #9


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    Making Mars into a livable planet would be way more complicated than that. First, you'd need an atmosphere and liquid water. I suppose melting the ice would be the first step. Then you'd need to make sure that heat could be trapped (to keep the water from refreezing), so you'd need to introduce a great deal of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. You'd probably need billions of tons (in terms of biomass) of obligate anaerobic bacteria that use inorganic molecules other than oxygen to accept electrons at the end of the electron transport chain to produce that carbon dioxide. You would also need denitrifying soil bacteria to release nitrogen into the atmosphere. Once you have these two gases, you can then worry about plant life.

    First, though, you'd need fungi and lichens to break down the soil into a form usable by plant life. The lichens would begin to release oxygen into the atmosphere at this point, and you could introduce aerobic bacteria, in particular nitrogen-fixing bacteria. This should make the soil usable and you could then introduce plant life. Once you have plant life and aerobic bacteria, the atmosphere would eventually be suitable for animal life.

    I would imagine this process would not be all that easy. Melting the ice caps and introducing bacteria to produce carbon dioxide and nitrogen would probably take about 50-100 years (I have no idea how long it takes for enough gas to accumulate to create a favorable climate). Primary succession (the breakdown of soil) would then take about 30 years or so - this is the length of time it usually takes after the retreat of a glacier and I'm assuming it would be the same on Mars. Then you could introduce the plant life, and presumably it would take at least another 50 years for enough oxygen to accumulate and make animal life possible (again, another unsubstantiated guess - I'm no expert on rates of gas release in either plants or bacteria).

    Anyway, it would be a nice experiment. Couldn't hurt to have another planet. I wouldn't even colonize it. Just send enough plant and animal life there and let them evolve on their own until the planet has distinct working ecosystems. Should we ever manage to complete destroy this planet, we could then have another to turn to while we let the earth recover.
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