- Education and Science
Of Bacteria, Insects, and Men
Bacteria are the pioneering living things on Earth. They filled the air with oxygen, the land with fertilizers, and the sea with nutrients laying the foundation for the emergence of much complex living things like the insects and men. After more than 3.5 billion years, bacteria are still the most dominant living things on Earth. They can still be found everywhere including the innards of the insects and men. Insects are the most abundant animal on Earth with more than 900K species living on every corner of Earth under extreme environmental conditions. They perform crucial functions like recycling waste products, cleansing the dead living matters, pollinating flowers and plants, being a food source for other animals, etc. Due to the insects’ small size, their massive numbers are normally hidden from plain sight. They keep the Earth clean and livable for the eventual emergence of the game-changing animal species, men. Today, there are only 7 billion people on Earth, a tiny fraction comparing to the bacteria and insects. Yet, men are also able to live on every corner of the Earth under extreme environmental conditions not by special adaptation of biological and physiological functions but by the invention of the necessary gears to overcome the obstacles. Most importantly, men are able to study and understand how bacteria and insects function and their crucial roles in the game of life.
The bacteria first appeared (via evolutionary process) around 3.5 billion years ago when life just started on Earth. They are single celled organisms with all the basic functions to survive an environment that had no oxygen in the air, no stable land mass, and was constantly bombarded by meteorites and asteroids. In times, some bacteria would evolve with the capability to use the abundant sunlight to convert the organic compounds with water as food while releasing oxygen into the air as waste product. This event paved the emergence of plants and bacteria species that was able to use oxygen to convert, without sunlight, organic compounds and water as food. They also set the stage for the developments of the multi-celled organisms. Today, as countless living things had extinct due to failure to adapt and survive the changing environmental conditions, bacteria can be found not only on every corner of the Earth but also on and inside the body of all the other living things doing their jobs to make the continuation and proliferation of life on Earth possible.
It will not be another 3 billion years till the emergence of one of the first animal on land, the insects. They are multi-celled living organisms, despite their small size, fully equipped with sensory organs, nervous network, digestive system, and mobile limbs to travel large areas to seek food and mate, to build nest and reproduce. Some insects can fly in the air, some can live under the water, and some can build tunnel beneath the ground. Some insects can make food out of plants and flowers, some can eat dead living matters. The insects have short life cycle and multiply in huge numbers to guarantee their diversified off-springs having a better chance to adapt to the changing environment. Today, we have identified close to a million extant insect species each with unique physiological and biological functions to survive on this unforgiving and merciless planet. Their perseverance makes it easier for the other less versatile animals to also take a foothold to play the game of life.
3.5 million years after life started and 500 million years after insects emerged, the appearance of men probably signals that the development of life on Earth has reached its zenith and its final objective. Men as living things are not only a game changer but also a show stopper. Before men, life was dictated by Nature’s grace and fury. Living things live and die without knowing what is happening, understanding how things happen, and figuring out why things happen. But, men are able to make use of Nature’s grace, take precaution against its fury, and live a life of their own choosing. Men are also able to decipher life’s working codes to trace how and when it all started, to find out when and how bacteria evolved to insects and to men, and to ponder why they possess the power to understand and change the game of life and their destiny on Earth. Men have learned to control the diseases caused by bacteria, to use bacteria to make wine, bread, cheese, etc., and to appreciate that there are billions of bacteria living on and inside their body to keep them healthy. From insects, men are able to obtain silk to make clothes, honey as food sweetener, decomposed living matters as fertilizer, etc., and to appreciate their tenacity to survive no matter what it takes.
Without bacteria, there are no insects. Without insects, there are no men. The journey has taken 3.5 billion years to complete. Men have demonstrated they are no longer at the mercy of the changing environmental conditions and the random mutation:
Men have learned to build structures that can withstand earthquakes, systems to forecast hurricane, laboratories to develop drought and frost resistant crops, instruments to detect, monitor, and prevent possible collisions from meteorites and asteroids, etc.
Men have learned that all living things on Earth are built based on the DNA inside their cells. So, men are setting out to find out what makes the DNA of all the living things different and at the same time, how they are related. Most importantly, men are ready to induce selected and controlled mutations in DNA to achieve the desired results.
With the emergence of men, life on Earth has reached a milestone and turning point whence things used to happen randomly, chaotically, and uncontrollably under the guidance of Nature’s invisible laws. But now, under men’s watchful eyes, manipulative hands, and constantly thinking brain and always scheming mind, they will not hesitate to impose their own wills, laws, and power to put things in order and in their favor. Men have become the master of Earth – leveling ground to pave roads, digging tunnels through mountains for trains to pass though, cutting down forests to build houses, extracting oils, coals, and minerals from below ground for energy, etc. – to build a man-made world to ensure their survival as well as their material comfort. Soon, men will come to the realization that Earth is no longer big enough to accommodate their growing population and insatiable demand for natural resources. Since the dawn of men’s civilization, they have set their sights toward the sky, the moon, the planets, Sun, and beyond. Almost instinctively, men know that it is among the stars that they will find their new playground and the unlimited resources. No doubt, the omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent bacteria and insects will find ways to hitch a ride to the new worlds.