Oct 19, 2010 I Micah Hanks

This Curious Existence: How Life Finds it’s Way

Traditionally, humans celebrate their birthdays, since the act of bringing new life into existence is one of the most sacred elements of life in this world.

Therefore, it's no surprise why recent news about a 42-year-old mother giving birth to a child who, astonishingly, was born from an embryo frozen 20 years ago, has many talking. "This is the longest time a fertilized egg has been stored before developing into a healthy baby," reported The Medical News, "and could eventually lead to thousands of women having children in middle age."

This is merely one instance where, in the words of Dr. Ian Malcom from Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, "life finds a way." Granted, this circumstance was also aided somewhat by the modern science of embryology, which through harvesting young, healthy ova, can help ensure a healthier pregnancy further along in the potential mother's life. Still, there are even more remarkable circumstances that occasionally arise from apparent chaos all by themselves, where life springs forth in remarkable ways, and capable of survival under some of the most peculiar circumstances.

In 2007, researchers first discovered several varieties of black mold growing around the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine; some of which were literally growing within the destroyed reactor. Samples were collected by robots, since the area still has potentially deadly levels of radioactivity, and researchers with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine began studying how the curious little fungi could survive in such a hostile environment. Incredibly, the molds were found to grow and absorb acetate faster in an environment when exposed to radiation 500 times higher than what are generally considered safe levels. Containing high levels of the pigment melanin, the molds were apparently capable of converting gamma radiation (the same radiation that famously transformed mild-mannered Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk) into energy used for growth; a strange sort of radioactive photosynthesis.

As incredible as the notion that organisms might adapt to survive off of radiation may be, there are many other peculiar instances where life manages to adapt to the most extreme conditions. For instance, in 1977, scientists discovered a series of hot springs on the ocean floor near the Galapagos Rift outside Ecuador. These springs, which are actually areas where geothermal heat has accumulated beneath mid-oceanic ridges, result from magma beneath the ocean floor at temperatures sometimes exceeding 1,000 °C. In spite of the tremendous heat in such areas, researchers were amazed to find a variety of unique sea life that had made these places their home. Among the critters discovered were giant tube worms, as well as larger-than-average shellfish that had adapted well to their home around these vents.

Some might even argue that humankind's ability to flourish and populate all stretches of the globe, from the furthest (and coldest) extremities, to the hottest barren deserts around, is a miracle in itself. Curious though this may be, it becomes much easier to understand how our own strange existence might have come to pass, especially when we see simpler life forms doing so in areas furthest from which we'd expect to be habitable. Who knows; cryogenically freezing ourselves, rather than merely embryos, could be right around the corner. When taking this into consideration alongside all the strange reports of creatures like sea serpents, Sasquatches, Mothmen and other monstrosities, it somewhat diminishes the incredibility that surrounds their potential existence, too. This is, in all its strange capacities, a fascinating world in which we live... and yes, it is probably still teeming with life in places we've yet to even consider looking.

Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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