Biomass on Earth Measured

Biomass on Earth Mostly Plants
Biomass is the mass of living biological organisms. If you lumped all living things by category, what group of organisms do you think would have the greatest biomass on Earth? We aren’t talking about the number of individuals, but the mass of the different lifeforms.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 21 published a study of the different areas of the world and what form of life dominates in those areas. (Click Here to read the full report.) Plants contribute the primary biomass in the terrestrial environment. Animals are primary in the marine environment. Bacteria and archaea (single-celled microorganisms) dominate the deep subsurface environment.

You may find the results surprising. The total biomass of Earth consists of 80% plants. Bacteria make up the second largest biomass at 15%. After that in descending order are fungi, archaea, protists (unicellular organisms that sometimes form colonies), animals (including humans), and viruses. Soil fungi, protists, soil archaea, arthropods, annelids, and livestock all exceed humans in their biomass. Only wild mammals, nematodes, and wild birds have smaller biomasses than humans. In the marine environment the biomass is much smaller than on land, and after animals, the greatest biomass is in protists, archaea, fungi, and finally bacteria. It is interesting that tiny Antarctic krill contribute about the same biomass as humans.

As you think about the biomass on Earth, it becomes evident that for human life to exist, we need a huge biomass of supporting life-forms. It becomes apparent that we must take care of all of the living things that support us. It is also obvious that before human life could exist on Earth enormous preparation was required.

We have to be reminded of the words of the psalmist in Psalms 8: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon, the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him… You have made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beast of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the sea.”
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Reference: Scientific American, August 2018, page 16.

Why Plants Grow Up

Why Plants Grow Up
Have you ever wondered why plants grow up instead of down? Take a bean, a grain of corn, or any other seed and lay it on top of wet soil until it germinates. The root will grow out of the seed and turn downward into the soil. The shoot will go upward. It doesn’t matter which direction you position the seed when it germinates. Even if the seed germinates in a place where there is no light, the root still goes down, and the stem goes up.

After the root and stem are growing, take the seed and turn it upside down with the root pointing straight up. The root will turn around and head back down into the soil. Take a potted plant and lay it on its side so that it’s horizontal. If the dirt doesn’t fall out, the plant will make a turn and go upward and its roots downward.

Trees on a hillside don’t grow perpendicular to the slope. They grow upward, and the roots grow downward. If there is a landslide and the tree is left horizontal, it will turn and start growing upward again. Amazing, isn’t it?

This ability of plants to know up from down is called gravitropism. Only in recent years has science begun to learn the secrets of how it works. In the cells of the plant, there are particles called statoliths. They normally sit on the bottom of gravity sensing cells. When the plant is tipped, they move and send a message to the growth regulating cells that the direction of gravity has changed. The roots react positively and go toward the source of gravity. The stem responds negatively and goes in the opposite direction.

This explanation is an oversimplified description of why plants grow up. How a plant with no brain or central nervous system communicates the message of which way to grow from one cell to another is still not fully understood. Little by little, science is uncovering the mysteries of life. We still have much to learn, but it’s obvious that plants show evidence of design by a Master Engineer.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Adding Nitrogen to the Soil

Adding Nitrogen to the Soil
We all know that lightning can be dangerous. Each year people are killed, and a great deal of property damage occurs because of lightning. We don’t usually consider the benefits of this powerful force. Nitrogen in the soil is essential for plants to grow and lightning is a natural method of adding nitrogen to the soil.

Although lightning can be dangerous, it also produces materials that are critical to life. All living things depend on the chemical element nitrogen. Your body contains molecules known as proteins. Proteins are made up of several elements, including nitrogen. Nitrogen is essential for proteins, but it is very hard to make nitrogen into proteins. Even though nitrogen makes up 78 percent of our atmosphere, we don’t get any nitrogen from the air we breathe. With each breath, we inhale and exhale nitrogen without using it. The nitrogen in the atmosphere has three electron bonds between the atoms, and that is a very strong and stable chemical arrangement. It takes an enormous amount of energy to break those bonds to free the nitrogen.

When lightning slices through the atmosphere, it knocks electrons from nitrogen atoms. The atoms are then free to combine with oxygen and hydrogen in the atmosphere forming nitrates. Rain carries this new compound to the ground enriching the soil with nitrates which are the building blocks of proteins. Plants synthesize the nitrates into proteins. When animals eat the plants, they get proteins. When we eat the plants or animals, we get the proteins we need to build more proteins.

Without lightning and the other processes for adding nitrogen to the soil, life could not exist on Earth. There is a purpose in the design of lightning. The Designer has also given us the intelligence to avoid many of the adverse effects of this powerful force.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Electrons Are Essential for Life

Electrons Are Essential in the Elements of Life
Everyone knows that electrons allow us to have computers and other electrical devices, but you may not realize how many ways electrons are essential. The mass, charge, magnetic properties, and spin of electrons are all designed to make life possible. It is amazing that something far too small for us to see is so important.

The changing momentum of electrons creates light which is essential for life. Electrons are also the fundamental cause of all that happens in chemistry. Atoms bond with other atoms to make molecules by exchanging or by sharing electrons. The complex organic molecules in your body, including DNA, are held together by electrons. The properties of every element in the universe are determined by how its electrons are arranged around the nucleus.

The oxygen atom with eight electrons joins with two single-electron hydrogen atoms to form water. The arrangement of the electrons in the oxygen atom causes the oxygen/hydrogen union to form in a way that gives water its unusual properties. The arrangement of electrons and the way the atoms bond causes water to dissolve salts, freeze from the top down, form crystals when freezing, and have surface tension. Without these unique properties of water, life would not be possible on Earth.

The arrangement of the six electrons in the carbon atom allows it to form enormous numbers of carbon compounds in various patterns. Because carbon can build so many organic compounds, our carbon-based life can exist. Without the particular arrangement of electrons in oxygen and carbon, life would not be possible.

Add to carbon and oxygen more than 90 other elements and their electron arrangements, and you can see that the probability of all of this happening by chance is not reasonable. We can be sure that a Master Designer created this complex system in which electrons are essential.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Plants Spread Their Seeds

Plants Spread Their Seeds - Sandbox Tree
Plants use a wide range of methods to spread their seeds. Some plants have seeds encased in a shell or a fleshy bundle that various animals, including humans, like to eat. We are all familiar with nuts and fruits, but the basic design of these foods is to spread their seeds. We live in an area where poison ivy is a real nuisance, and getting rid of it this year won’t stop it from being a problem next year because birds eat the berries on the plant and replant the ivy all over our property. For good or bad, plants spread their seeds.

In our front yard, we have maple trees, and we all know about the helicopters that maple trees produce. We have cottonwood trees which have white flocculent packets that drift across the landscape carrying their seeds with them. We also have several plants with seeds encased in a bundle with barbs that stick to our clothes. Plants spread their seeds by many methods working together to make our world green and able to support a host of animal life.

Plants that shoot their seeds use one of the most interesting methods of seed disbursal. The seed pod in the picture is from the sandbox tree (Hura crepitans) nicknamed “the dynamite tree” because of the explosive way the pods burst open. In the segments of the pod, the outer and inner layers grow at different speeds. This creates tension as the surfaces push against each other. When the seeds are ready, the pressure becomes so great, that the capsule explodes. The sections that were initially convex rapidly flip to concave in a process known to engineers as snap-buckling. That explosion can shoot the seeds 100 feet (30 m) at speeds of 160 miles (257 km) per hour.

Some of us remember “jumping disks” we had as children. Two metals were fused together with the metals having different coefficients of linear expansion. If you rubbed the side of the disk with your finger making it hot, it would expand, and you could bend it, so the disk had tension produced and held by the expanded metal. As the disk cooled, it would eventually snap back to its original shape, causing it to jump into the air.

Scientists have tried since the time of Charles Darwin, who had a fascination with the Venus flytrap, to understand how a plant with no muscles could shoot seeds or snap closed to trap insects. It has only been in the last 20 years that high-speed cameras which can take 10,000 frames per second have allowed researchers to understand how this incredible design works.

Measurements of snapping plants show a g-force of 2400. Fighter pilots can handle about nine gs before passing out. A wide variety of designs allow plants to shoot seeds or snap shut to trap food. The American dwarf mistletoe uses a chemical heat system that explodes seeds. The wild petunia has 20 disk-shaped seeds in hooks. When the seed pod gets wet, it splits and launches the seeds like Frisbees, but much faster with revolution rates of nearly 100,000 rpm. The Venus flytrap apparently uses an electrical signal, but scientists are still studying it to learn exactly how it works.

Plants spread their seeds by many amazing mechanisms God has built into them, and which scientists are still trying to understand. Even more amazing is the complexity of the life-support systems on Earth that allow us to exist.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For more on his topic, see “Physics of Rapid Movement in Plants” in Europhysics News
and a wonderful article “Meet the Speedsters of the Plant World” in Science News

Coevolution – Stretching Truth to the Limit

Coevolution and Angraecum sesquipedale
One of the interesting characteristics of modern-day evolutionists is how far they will stretch credibility to support the model they assume to be true. Carl Zimmer in his book Evolution–The Triumph of an Idea gives a classic example of such a stretch when he calls our attention to an orchid found in Madagascar named Angraecum sesquipedale. It’s a story of coevolution.

You may recall from high school biology that flowers have both female organs called pistils and male organs called anthers. To cross-pollinate from one flower to another, the pollen from one plant must go to the “eggs” of another plant of the same species. The problem, in this case, is that the orchid has an 11 to 16 inch (28-40 cm) shaft at the bottom of which is a pool of nectar. It is far out of the reach of the usual pollinators of Madagascar. So how does pollination occur? It turns out that there is a microscopic moth that does the pollinating. What is unusual about this moth is that it has a tongue that is coiled up like a watch-spring taking up virtually no space. When the moth uncurls the tongue, it is 16 inches (40 cm) long. While the tongue is drinking in the nectar, the head and body of the moth are pollinating the orchid.

This is classic symbiosis. The orchid cannot reproduce without the moth, and the moth would starve to death without the orchid. The question is, “How could such a relationship came into existence?” Evolutionists would have us believe that the orchid evolved the shaft, the nectar pool, and the placement of the pollen at precisely the same time that the moth evolved the watch-spring tongue. At some point in the process, the two came together, and the symbiotic relationship was born.

The orchid and the moth are just one of a vast number of symbiotic relationships between species. Some of those mutual relationships are between predators and prey with physical characteristics that allow both to survive. Biologists say that it is just a matter of coevolution. However, as our understanding of genetics has improved, the difficulty in explaining these symbiotic relationships has gotten worse. Not only are the physical characteristics needed, but the genetic combinations must be very specific.

You will find more details on this interesting subject in F. LaGard Smith’s book Darwin’s Secret Sex Problem published by Westbow Press.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Life Needs Phosphorus

Life Needs Phosphorus
The element phosphorus is used to make matches. Molecular phosphorus has two common forms. There is white phosphorus which is dangerously combustible and is used to make fireworks and weapons. The more stable red phosphorus is used on the side of any box of safety matches. When you strike the match against the red phosphorus, a small amount of it is changed to white phosphorus to ignite the match. But phosphorus has more important uses than starting fires. Life needs phosphorus. The average human body contains about 26.5 ounces (750 grams) of phosphorus. Most of it is in our bones.

Phosphate is a compound of phosphorus and oxygen. It combines with sugars in living tissue to form the backbone of DNA, which is the blueprint for life found in every living cell. Phosphate is also part of a complex organic chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) found in every living organism. ATP releases energy so that cells can function. Life needs phosphorus and could not exist without it in an abundant supply.

Recent research presented at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science on April 5, 2018, indicates that phosphorus may not be widely available in the Milky Way. The research indicates that it is more random than scientists had previously thought. That means even if one of the recently discovered exoplanets had all of the conditions required to support life, it still might be lifeless without phosphorus.

We have often referred to the many conditions required to make a habitable planet. Here is one more to add to the list. Life needs phosphorus, and apparently phosphorus is less widely distributed than we thought. Phil Cigan, one of the astronomers involved in the study, said, “It’s not a guaranteed thing to have phosphorus abundant everywhere, ripe for the picking. It seems to look like luck plays a bigger role in this.”

Is it just one more chance coincidence that planet Earth has the phosphorus needed for life? We don’t think it is a matter of luck. We think this is another evidence of God’s design for life.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Tree Rights: Do Trees Have Feelings?

Tree Rights
A German forester and author named Peter Wohileben has written a book titled The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. The book has sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany and has hit the best-seller list in 11 other countries including the U.S. and Canada. He was quoted in the March issue of Smithsonian magazine as saying, “We must at least talk about the rights of trees.” Since we are concerned about human rights should we also be thinking of tree rights?

According to the article in Smithsonian, scientific evidence indicates “that trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species.” Wohileben says that trees in every forest “are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate.” What Wohileben is talking about is a symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi underground. The hair-like root tips of trees join together through fungal filaments to form a mycorrhizal network. The fungi consume sugar from the tree roots as they pull nitrogen, phosphorus, and other minerals from the soil which are absorbed by the roots for use by the trees.

The trees communicate through their “wood-wide-web” by “sending chemical, hormonal and slow-pulsing electrical signals.” The large trees with deep roots draw up water which benefits the shallow-rooted trees. The article says that trees also share nutrients with each other, even between species. In addition to the underground network trees also communicate with each other through the release of chemicals into the air, and they release large amounts of moisture into the air feeding rain systems.

Wohileben presents his story of the trees as if they have intelligence. He says that we must “allow some trees to grow old with dignity, and die a natural death.” Multiple scientists refute Wohileben saying that trees are not “sentient beings” and call Wohileben’s ideas anthropomorphism.

We believe that God has given us the duty to protect the environment. That includes trees. (Genesis 2:9, 15) However, we see great danger in talking about tree rights. Plants and animals are here to serve humans, and we are here to serve God.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Oak Tree Rodent Control

Oak Tree Rodent Control
There have been times in Earth’s history when rodents threatened to overrun areas of the planet. Sometimes humans upset the ecological balance leading to an overabundance of rodents. Then people have to find a way to keep them under control. But what if you are an oak tree with a mouse problem? Is there such a thing as oak tree rodent control?

Among other things, rodents eat acorns which are the seeds of oak trees. How can new oak trees be produced if the mice eat the seeds? Dr. Jerry Wolff of Oregon State University made a study of oak trees and white-footed mice in the Appalachian Mountains several years ago. Dr. Wolff found that oak trees in the Appalachian area synchronize their erratic production of acorns. In that way, they control the rodent population.

When the mouse population is low, the oak trees produce a massive number of acorns which swamps the mice with more acorns than they can eat. These well-fed rodents produce high numbers of offspring. Over the next three or four years acorns will be a scarce commodity, and so the rodent population crashes. At that point, the trees again synchronize and switch back to high volume acorn production. There are fewer rodents around to eat them resulting in a greater production of tree seedlings.

Trying to explain this by some chance process stretches credibility. The simpler view is that the DNA of the trees and the mice were designed to continue providing a constant growth of new trees and the production of acorns for the mice. There are many symbiotic relationships in nature where two species are dependent on each other. This oak tree rodent control is a design to guarantee that both species survive. Design indicates a Designer.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: This study first appeared in Discover magazine in 1992.

Dangers of Long-term Marijuana Use

Dangers of Long-term Marijuana Use
A newly released study indicates the dangers of long-term marijuana use. The bottom line is that it alters brain cells.

The study was published in Jneurosci (The Journal of Neuroscience) on October 16. The researchers focused on the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain. Dopamine and serotonin receptors are concentrated there. Those receptors give a person the sensation of pleasure.

The scientists conducted the study on mice in their “teen” and “adolescent” stages of life. The mice received injections of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) every day for a week. THC is the principal psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Marijuana (as well as opioids and alcohol) stimulates the VTA to release dopamine resulting in an experience of pleasure and the desire for more. There is a GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) cell in the VTA which acts as an inhibitor. When the brain releases GABA, it serves to restrain the desire for pleasure and keep it under control.

In the week of receiving THC, the GABA neurons lost their ability to control the desire for pleasure. They were in a state of “long-term depression” (LTD). This caused the dopamine to remain longer in the VTA giving a sense of being “spaced out,” and leading to addiction.

The researchers stated that the long-term effect of the THC was to remodel the brain’s synapses resulting in reduced “synaptic plasticity.” The synapses carry electrical or chemical signals from one nerve cell (neuron) to another. This “synaptic modification” is changing the brain at the cellular level.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association, and it is the standard reference used by mental health professionals at all levels. The current edition is DSM-5. It defines cannabis (marijuana) use disorder as a “problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.”

In other words, marijuana impairs the ability of people to do things they need to do or even want to do. We have cautioned before about the dangers of long-term marijuana use and the consequences of legalization and wide-spread availability. This study confirms that danger.
–Roland Earnst © 2017