Download Echoes of Life: What Fossil Molecules Reveal about Earth by Susan M. Gaines PDF

By Susan M. Gaines

In 1936 a German chemist pointed out definite natural molecules that he had extracted from old rocks and oils because the fossil continues to be of chlorophyll--presumably from vegetation that had lived and died thousands of years some time past. It was once one other twenty-five years ahead of this perception was once built and the time period ''biomarker'' coined to explain fossil molecules whose molecular constructions may perhaps demonstrate the presence of differently elusive organisms and techniques. Echoes of Life is the tale of those molecules and the way they're illuminating the background of the earth and its lifestyles. it's also the tale of ways a couple of maverick natural chemists and geologists defied the dictates in their disciplines and--at a time while the ordinary sciences have been fragmenting into ever-more-specialized sub-disciplines--reunited chemistry, biology and geology in a typical pastime. The infrequent mixture of rigorous technology and literary style--woven right into a ancient narrative that strikes certainly from the easy to the complex--make Echoes of Life a ebook to be learn for excitement and contemplation, in addition to schooling.

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In organisms, fatty acids are an important means of storing energy, and they are the main ingredient of cell membranes. They come in both saturated and unsaturated versions, Looking to the Rocks 29 the latter with double bonds between some of the carbon atoms; both the chain length and the number and placement of double bonds vary among different groups of organisms. The carboxyl group is bound by an ester linkage to form the phospholipids that make up most cell membranes, and Geoff had found that the leaf waxes contained long-chain fatty acids bound by ester linkages to alcohols.

The odd-over-even preference is easily explained by our knowledge of how organisms build unbranched carbon chains, a core biosynthetic process that appears to be common to all forms of life. Unbranched chain structures are assembled two carbon atoms at a time: acetic acid is combined with malonic acid, losing a carbon to form a four-carbon acid, which then latches onto another malonic acid, losing a carbon to form the six-carbon acid, and so on. Accordingly, the fatty acids and the alcohols—biosynthesized via a simple reduction of the acids—have carbon chains with primarily even numbers of carbon atoms.

Geoff had embarked with his chromatographic ship to explore the molecular world of those same creatures, and he couldn’t very well ignore all the dull brown finches and sparrows just because the tanagers were more beautiful or the eagles more spectacular. Perhaps, like the Galapagos finches that inspired Darwin’s monumental observation that “one species had been taken and modified for different ends,” these boring n-alkanes would prove more enlightening than the fantastic ring structures Geoff ’s colleagues were building and isolating.

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