Science vs. Science Fiction, non-scientist needs help

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MOrenda
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Science vs. Science Fiction, non-scientist needs help

Post by MOrenda » Wed Aug 20, 2014 6:45 am

Hello. I am a non-scientist, and I'm hoping I don't get flamed by some angry scientists here, but I have to ask (and maybe some of you are bored enough, or amused enough, to help). I am writer and I am trying to get the science right. I have researched the topic, and I'm afraid I still don't know the answers. I know the scenario will sound very far fetched, but would desperately like to use correct science as a starting point for the fictional bacteria featured in my book.

In my next book, my explorers encounter a wet cavern on Mars which has a bacterial colony growing in it. This colony has evolved to form a kind of collective intelligence. They consume iron. For the purposes of story telling, I made them bioluminescent. I further made their collective intelligence an adaptation of bioluminescent communication, which I know is sometimes used for quorum sensing, but perhaps a different adaptation would make collective intelligence more believable.. I don't know.

Obviously, no amount of facts are going to make this 100% plausible, but I was hoping to get some feedback (what I can do to make it better to support the end result, which is a colony of bacteria on Mars, in a basalt cave, which has achieved collective intelligence). Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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JackBean
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Post by JackBean » Wed Aug 20, 2014 6:39 pm

So what exactly is your question?
http://www.biolib.cz/en/main/

Cis or trans? That's what matters.

sosippus
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Re: Science vs. Science Fiction, non-scientist needs help

Post by sosippus » Wed Sep 24, 2014 8:16 pm

MOrenda wrote:In my next book, my explorers encounter a wet cavern on Mars which has a bacterial colony growing in it. This colony has evolved to form a kind of collective intelligence. They consume iron. For the purposes of story telling, I made them bioluminescent. I further made their collective intelligence an adaptation of bioluminescent communication, which I know is sometimes used for quorum sensing, but perhaps a different adaptation would make collective intelligence more believable.. I don't know.

I believe you are not saying anything out of this world (lol). However, I have some reservations regarding the "collective intelligence". Here is some info on some of the points:
[*]Bacteria often use iron, (though often this comes from a host http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1016/0307-4412(83)90043-2/pdf, http://www.dbi.ca/books/PDFs/Water-Paper.PDF).
[*]Bioluminescent bacteria often use molecules such as Luciferase (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luciferase). https://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index.ph ... n_Settings and http://cibt.bio.cornell.edu/workshops_a ... Biolum.pdf
[*]Cell to cell interaction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cell%E2%80 ... n_bacteria

However, I see two major problems: as you can see from the links above, cells interact with eachother. This often comes through a physical or chemical queue. However, this should happen within a very small distance, so that the cells could detect such queues. But this is no major concern I'm guessing. Imagine that they are all in a very dark cave: if there is no light, any bioluminescent queue would be easily seen. Interestingly, the first bacteria where Luciferase was observed did not produce this luminescent response when growing in small numbers, but when big colonies occurred this luminescent response was observed:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoinducer#Discovery

How "intelligent" would they be? This is the major concern that I have. The sole objective of most *unicellular* organisms (such as bacteria) is to grow as fast as possible. This allows organisms to outcompete the slower growing ones eventually. It is difficult to say that such a small and simple organism such as a bacteria is intelligent. But, if the kind of "intelligence" that you are looking for would be simple I believe it would be plausible.

I'm going to let my mind fly now. Imagine that, throughout evolution, these colonial bacteria could develop a system in which they would produce a response (i.e. luminescence) under stress. This would mean that, if the environment changed for worse, these bacteria could start sending that response to the neighbouring cells. These would detect these cells and enter a state where their defenses were stronger, though their growth would be slower. I believe all of this makes sense, though a luminescent response implies a high energetic cost that problem the cells cannot afford greatly if their environment changes for worse. Also, I believe (though I haven't searched about this) that cell to cell interaction is extremely simple in lower organisms. Nevertheless, lower organisms still develop in colonies, so it is entirely possible that they interact with eachother (though, again, on a very simple and basic way). But this is a small detail I think.

I can comment some more tomorrow and look into these details with more attention some other time. I'm a biochemist but not a microbiologist, so maybe someone else can come here and give you more input. Nevertheless, I hope this helps you anyway

Edit: oh, and one more thing. For bacteria to grow, they need some kind of carbon source (e.g. organic matter). This is usually in the form of basic sugars such as glucose or lactose. How do they grow if their growth conditions are purely non-organic rock?

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JackBean
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Post by JackBean » Sat Nov 08, 2014 5:08 pm

@sosippus
just two things
1) how would they detect the luminiscence? Better would be some chemical signal as we know it from here.
2) surprise, surprise, bacteria do not require organic carbon source
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autotroph
http://www.biolib.cz/en/main/

Cis or trans? That's what matters.

sosippus
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Re:

Post by sosippus » Sun Nov 09, 2014 1:13 pm

JackBean wrote:@sosippus
just two things
1) how would they detect the luminiscence? Better would be some chemical signal as we know it from here.
2) surprise, surprise, bacteria do not require organic carbon source
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autotroph


True and true! Thanks, had forgotten about those, I had been getting used to the others!

EnricoPallazzo
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Re: Science vs. Science Fiction, non-scientist needs help

Post by EnricoPallazzo » Sat Dec 27, 2014 6:59 pm

Sounds like a re-make of "The Swarm" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Swarm_%28novel%29) which is a great novel, by the way... If you don`t know it yet, you should probably read it...

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